Statistics Explained

Health statistics at regional level

Data extracted in May 2022.

Planned article update: September 2023.


Between 2011 and 2019, the number of deaths from cancer fell by at least 20 % in the Italian region of Valle d'Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste and the Belgian regions of Prov. Brabant wallon and Prov. Luxembourg.

In 2019, cancer accounted for around one third of all deaths in Åland (Finland) and Zahodna Slovenija (Slovenia).

Source: Eurostat (hlth_cd_asdr2)

Health is an important priority for most Europeans, who expect to receive efficient healthcare services – for example, if contracting a disease or being involved in an accident – alongside timely and reliable public health information. The overall health of the European Union (EU) population is closely linked to that of the environment through – among other influences – the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.

The COVID-19 crisis resulted in severe human suffering and a considerable loss of life. At the time of writing (June 2022), the pandemic continues to affect the EU, although most actions to mitigate the spread of the virus – such as restrictions on personal mobility and economic sectors – have been lifted in most EU Member States. Although many aspects of daily life have returned to normal, COVID-19 continues to impact healthcare: for example, operations/treatments were cancelled or delayed during the pandemic because frontline staff had been redeployed to take care of those suffering from the virus. At an individual level, some patients decided to forego hospital visits during the pandemic, thereby missing regular check-ups and screening for a variety of diseases. The opening chapter of this publication provides information on the demographic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis through an analysis of life expectancy and weekly deaths.

Cancer concerns many of us: it accounts for approximately one quarter of all deaths in the EU. For decades, the EU has been working to tackle cancer, through actions such as tobacco control or protection from hazardous substances. On the eve of World Cancer Day (3 February 2021), the European Commission launched Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, which is structured around four key areas: i) prevention; ii) early detection; iii) diagnosis and treatment; and iv) quality of life for cancer patients and survivors.

Across EU regions (NUTS level 2), the largest reduction in deaths from cancer was recorded in the northern Italian region of Valle d’Aosta/Vallée d’Aoste, down overall 21.7 % between 2011 and 2019. The number of deaths from cancer fell by around one fifth in two Belgian regions – Prov. Brabant wallon and Prov. Luxembourg – while there were also relatively large declines in Luxembourg and in Flevoland in the Netherlands.

Full article

Health care

Hospital bed numbers and/or the number of medical doctors are indicators that may be used to measure the capacity of health care systems in regular times and also their preparedness/resilience to pandemics such as COVID-19.

Hospital beds are defined as those which are regularly maintained and staffed and immediately available for the care of patients admitted to hospitals; these statistics cover beds in general hospitals and in speciality hospitals. In 2019, there were 2.38 million hospital beds in the EU. This equated to 532 hospital beds per 100 000 inhabitants, or – expressed in a different way – there was, on average, one hospital bed for every 188 people.

In 2019, much of Germany (NUTS level 1 regions), Austria and Poland, as well as several capital regions in eastern EU Member States had a relatively high density of hospital beds. To some extent, this reflects country-specific ways of organising health care and the types of service provided to patients. The predominantly rural, northern German region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern had the highest density of hospital beds in the EU, at slightly less than 1 300 hospital beds per 100 000 inhabitants. There were three other regions that had ratios in excess of 1 000 hospital beds per 100 000 inhabitants: the northern Polish region of Zachodniopomorskie, and the capital regions of Romania (Bucureşti-Ilfov) and Hungary (Budapest).

Map 1 shows how the overall number of hospital beds per 100 000 inhabitants changed during the period from 2015 to 2019; for the EU as a whole, there were 3.1 % fewer beds in 2019. This falling number of hospital beds relative to population numbers may reflect, among other factors: cuts to healthcare spending in the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis; medical and technological developments; or changes in healthcare policies. For example, the need for hospital beds may be reduced through a greater provision of day-care and outpatient services as well as reductions in the average length of hospital stays; such changes may result from the introduction of new treatments and less invasive forms of surgery.

Map 1: Overall change in hospital beds, 2015–2019
(%, based on hospital beds per 100 000 inhabitants, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_rs_bdsrg)

Almost three quarters (71.3 %) of the EU regions shown in Map 1 recorded a fall in their number of hospital beds per 100 000 inhabitants between 2015 and 2019. There were 22 regions where the overall reduction was at least 11.0 %; this group included every region of Finland (except Åland) and all eight Swedish regions, as well as Luxembourg and the Netherlands (national data). The biggest reductions in hospital bed numbers were recorded in Finland: Pohjois- ja Itä-Suomi, Länsi-Suomi and Etelä-Suomi were the only regions in the EU where the number of beds per 100 000 inhabitants fell by more than 20.0 %.

There were 58 regions in the EU where the number of hospital beds per 100 000 inhabitants increased between 2015 and 2019. They included every region of Bulgaria and Romania, while most of the remaining regions were in eastern or southern EU Member States. However, the highest increases in hospital bed numbers were recorded in Åland (Finland; up overall almost 50 %), the Danish capital region of Hovedstaden (19.4 %) and Calabria (Italy; 18.0 %).

On average there was one doctor for every 256 inhabitants in the EU

Medical doctors include generalists (such as general practitioners) as well as medical and surgical specialists. They provide services to patients as consumers of healthcare, including: giving advice, conducting medical examinations and making diagnoses; applying preventive medical methods; prescribing medication and treating diagnosed illnesses; giving specialised medical or surgical treatment.

In 2019, there were 1.7 million medical doctors in the EU; this equated to an average of 390.6 medical doctors per 100 000 inhabitants. Map 2 shows the regional distribution of medical doctors, with:

  • a very high number of medical doctors relative to the size of the population across several regions of Greece – note that Greek data refer to medical doctors licensed to practice, which is a broader measure than practising doctors (as reported by a majority of EU Member States);
  • a very high number of medical doctors relative to population size in many capital regions – this was particularly notable for Attiki (Greece), Praha (Czechia), Wien (Austria), Área Metropolitana de Lisboa (Portugal), Bratislavský kraj (Slovakia), Bucureşti-Ilfov (Romania), Sostinės regionas (Lithuania), Budapest (Hungary), Berlin (Germany) and Comunidad de Madrid (Spain) where there were in excess of 500 doctors per 100 000 inhabitants;
  • a relatively high number of medical doctors relative to population size across a wide range of other urban regions (as healthcare services – including those provided by physicians – are more likely to be concentrated in regions that are characterised by relatively high population density);
  • a relatively low number of medical doctors relative to population size across much of Poland (2017 data), as well as several regions in the Netherlands, France (outermost regions), Hungary and Romania.

Leaving aside the atypical Spanish region of Ciudad de Ceuta, the highest number of medical doctors relative to population size was recorded in the Greek capital, Attiki (814 medical doctors licensed to practice per 100 000 inhabitants). This was 10 times as high as the lowest ratio (81 practising doctors per 100 000 inhabitants), as recorded in the outermost French region of Mayotte.

Map 2: Medical doctors, 2019
(per 100 000 inhabitants, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_rs_prsrg) and (hlth_rs_prs1)

The place or location of basic health services – for example, hospitals and ambulances – is often critical for those people who want to make use of them; the further a basic service is from their place of residence, the more time it will likely take for them to reach a service.

To measure how easily basic services can be reached by the resident population, Eurostat undertook some spatial analyses of health statistics and geographical information. Combining the road network together with the location of healthcare facilities, average travel times to the most accessible healthcare facility were computed (note this could have been across a national border).

Map 3 shows that average travel times to the nearest hospital were, as may be expected, generally lower in densely-populated areas: this was particularly notable in France, the Benelux countries, Germany and Czechia. By contrast, some people living in sparsely-populated areas faced a trip of several hours to the nearest hospital facility. Note that white grid cells in the map are uninhabited.

Map 3: Travel time to nearest hospital, 2020
(minutes, by 1 km² grid cells)
Source: TomTom Multinet, 2020, Geostat population grid 2018, Eurostat-GISCO hospital location, 2020

Average travel time to the nearest health facility by European region can be computed by aggregating the grid information of Map 3. In 2020, an estimated 82.5 % of the EU population was living within 15 minutes driving time of their nearest hospital.

In 2020, 129 regions had their population estimated to be living within 15 minutes driving time of a hospital; this equated to slightly more than 1 in 10 regions within the EU. Most of these were capital or urban regions with relatively high population density. At the other end of the scale, 89 regions had less than half of their population living within 15 minutes driving time of a hospital. Most of these were sparsely-populated regions often around the periphery of the EU, for example, in southern and eastern EU Member States, particularly the interiors of Spain and Portugal and rural regions of Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovenia; there were also several regions in Sweden where less than half of the population was living within 15 minutes driving time of a hospital. Looking in more detail, there were 11 regions that reported less than 10 % of their population were living within 15 minutes driving time of a hospital. Five of these were in Poland, four were in Romania and the other two were in Sweden.

Map 4: Population living within 15 minutes driving time of a hospital, 2020
(%, by NUTS 3 regions)
Source: TomTom Multinet, 2020, Geostat population grid 2018, Eurostat-GISCO hospital location, 2020

Causes of death

Health inequalities were brought into stark contrast during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of deaths disproportionately high among elderly persons, those already suffering from pre-existing health conditions and disadvantaged groups within society. However, a wide range of factors determine regional mortality patterns, with deaths linked, among other issues, to age structures, sex, access to healthcare services, living/working conditions and the surrounding environment.

Statistics on causes of death are based on two pillars: medical information from death certificates which are used as the basis for determining the cause of death and the coding of causes of death following the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). These data provide information about diseases (and other eventualities, such as suicide or accidents) that lead directly to death; they can be used to help plan health services. Statistics on causes of death are classified according to the European shortlist for causes of death (2012), which has 86 different causes.

Maps 5 and 6 show information for standardised death rates, whereby age-specific mortality rates are adjusted to reflect the structure of a standard population. This removes the influence of different age structures between regions (as elderly persons are more likely to die than younger persons or are more likely to catch/contract a specific illness/disease) and results in a more comparable measure across space and/or over time.

Some of the most economically-disadvantaged regions in the EU recorded the highest death rates

In 2020, there were 5.18 million deaths across the EU. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis was considerable, as the total number of deaths rose by more than half a million compared with the year before, equivalent to an increase of 11.4 %. However, this rapid increase in deaths should be interpreted with care as the daily monitoring of COVID-19 deaths for news releases during the pandemic covered people with COVID-19 (having tested positive) which is different to the causes of death data collection (deaths from COVID-19, as documented by death certificates).

Official statistics in this domain take a significant period of time to produce and regional data are not yet available for 2020 or 2021. Map 5 shows information both for the relative number and for the main causes of death across NUTS level 1 regions with information generally available for 2019. There were 10 regions in the EU where standardised death rates were above 1 300 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants (as shown by the largest circles). Most of these had relatively low living standards, as their GDP per inhabitant (in purchasing power standards (PPS)) was commonly less than two thirds of the EU average. This situation was most notable in Severna i Yugoiztochna (Bulgaria) which recorded the highest death rate in the EU (1 638 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants) and the lowest level of GDP per inhabitant (38 % of the EU average). The other regions with high death rates included all four regions in Romania, the two non-capital regions of Hungary, another Bulgarian region (Yugozapadna i Yuzhna tsentralna), as well as Latvia and Lithuania.

A similar pattern was apparent between regions within individual EU Member States. For example, the highest standardised death rates in the four largest Member States in 2019 were recorded in Saarland (rural, western Germany), Sur (southern Spain), Hauts-de-France (northern France; 2017 data) and Isole (the islands of Italy). All four regions were relatively disadvantaged, as they recorded levels of GDP per inhabitant that were considerably lower than their respective national averages.

In 2017, one quarter of all deaths in the EU were attributed to cancer

In 2017, the three principal causes of death in the EU were: diseases of the circulatory system, malignant neoplasms (hereafter referred to as cancer) and diseases of the respiratory system. Diseases of the circulatory system accounted for more than one third (36.6 %) of all deaths. Cancer accounted for one quarter (25.1 %) of the total number of deaths; a more detailed analysis is provided below. The proportion of deaths resulting from diseases of the respiratory system was much lower, at 7.9 %; the remaining 30.4 % of deaths in the EU had a variety of other causes.

Map 5 shows the main causes of death in 2019 for NUTS level 1 regions. In Severna i Yugoiztochna (Bulgaria) – the region with the highest standardised death rate – more than two thirds of all deaths (67.3 %) were attributed to diseases of the circulatory system. The 12 regions across the EU where more than half of all deaths were caused by diseases of the circulatory system included every region of Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, as well as the three Baltic Member States.

The very small, Finnish region of Åland had the highest share of deaths attributed to cancer (32.4 %). There were four more regions in the EU where more than 30.0 % of deaths were caused by cancer: Slovenia and three regions from France (2017 data): Pays de la Loire, Centre — Val de Loire and the capital region of Ile-de-France.

In 2019, the Região Autónoma da Madeira in Portugal had, by far, the highest share (17.9 %) of deaths caused by diseases of the respiratory system. The next highest shares were recorded in the Spanish regions of Canarias (14.5 %) and Comunidad De Madrid (13.7 %). Diseases of the respiratory system accounted for less than 10.0 % of all deaths in almost four fifths (79.3 %) of EU regions.

Map 5: Death rates and main causes of death, 2019
(by NUTS 1 regions)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_cd_asdr2)

Focus on deaths from cancer

As noted above, cancer is one of the leading causes of death (one quarter of all deaths in the EU), placing a considerable burden on healthcare systems and government budgets. Cancer research, innovation and new technologies can save lives. Indeed, the last 20 years have seen considerable scientific progress, for example, through understanding of the role of genetics. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan aims to raise awareness and address key risk factors such as cancers caused by smoking, harmful alcohol consumption, obesity, a lack of physical activity, or exposure to pollution, carcinogenic substances and radiation.

On average there were 252 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants from cancer in the EU

Despite medical advances, there were 1.17 million deaths across the EU from cancer in 2017. Some of the most fatal forms of cancer include cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lung (hereafter referred to simply as lung cancer), colorectal cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. The EU’s standardised death rate from cancer was 252 per 100 000 inhabitants.

In 2019, standardised death rates from cancer peaked at 352 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants in Dél-Dunántúl (Hungary). Hungarian regions also accounted for the second and third highest rates in the EU: Észak-Magyarország (349 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants) and Észak-Alföld (345 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants). More generally, there was a clear geographic split in terms of the distribution of regional death rates: the eastern and Baltic Member States recorded some of the highest death rates from cancer; the lowest rates were principally recorded around the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in several regions across Austria, Finland and Sweden.

There were five regions in the EU where standardised death rates from cancer were less than 200 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants. Three of these were outermost regions of France (2017 data) – Mayotte, Guadeloupe and Guyane. Leaving these atypical regions aside, the lowest death rates from cancer were in Cyprus and the Spanish capital region of Comunidad de Madrid.

Map 6 shows the share of all deaths in 2019 attributed to cancer; note that this ratio is influenced by the overall number of deaths in each region as well as the prevalence of other causes of death. For example, many regions in eastern Europe have particularly high death rates from diseases of the circulatory system, which tends to result in a relatively low share of deaths from cancer; this pattern was particularly true in Bulgaria and Romania.

In 2019, cancer accounted for a relatively high proportion of the total number of deaths in several EU Member States. The highest shares were generally recorded across Ireland (all three regions), northern and central Spain, northern and western France (2017 data), northern Italy and Sardegna, as well as several regions in Denmark and the Netherlands. However, the highest regional share was in Zahodna Slovenija where almost one third (32.7 %) of all deaths were attributed to cancer, followed by Åland in Finland (32.4 %) and Northern and Western in Ireland (30.9 %). By contrast, the outermost French region of Mayotte recorded only slightly more than 1 in 10 deaths being attributed to cancer (11.5 %; 2017 data).

Map 6: Deaths from cancer, 2019
(% of all deaths, based on standardised death rates per 100 000 inhabitants, by NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_cd_asdr2)

Figure 1 shows developments for standardised death rates for four specific types of cancer. Each line chart shows the EU average, the regions with the highest/lowest rates in 2019 and the regions with the biggest overall increases/decreases for the period 2011–2019.

Standardised death rates for the EU fell for all four types of cancer during the period under consideration (2011–2017). The death rate for all forms of cancer fell overall 5.8 %, with larger decreases recorded for prostate cancer among men (down 10.0 %) and colorectal cancer (down 9.3 %). The death rate for lung cancer – which has the highest death rate among different types of cancer – fell 5.6 % (in line with the overall rate for all forms of cancer), while there was a smaller decrease for breast cancer among women (down 3.2 %).

Across the EU, around 9 out of 10 (90.3 %) regions recorded a decrease in their standardised death rate from cancer between 2011 and 2019. This pattern was repeated for the different forms of cancer. For lung cancer, the standardised death rate fell in 84.9 % of regions, while a similar reduction was recorded for colorectal cancer where death rates decreased in 82.8 % of regions. By contrast, around three quarters (74.8 %) of all regions in the EU recorded a decline in death rates from prostate cancer among men, while two thirds (66.4 %) of regions recorded a decline in death rates from breast cancer among women.

The biggest reductions in standardised death rates during the period 2011–2019 were recorded in:

  • Prov. Limburg in Belgium for lung cancer;
  • Provincia Autonoma di Trento in Italy for colorectal cancer;
  • Prov. Brabant Wallon in Belgium for prostate cancer among men;
  • Sjælland in Denmark for breast cancer among women.
Figure 1a: Deaths from selected cancers, 2011–2019
(standardised death rates per 100 000 inhabitants, selected NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_cd_asdr2)
Figure 1b: Deaths from selected cancers, 2011–2019
(standardised death rates per 100 000 inhabitants, selected NUTS 2 regions)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_cd_asdr2)

Source data for figures and maps

Excel.jpg Health at regional level

Data sources

Healthcare resources

Non-expenditure data on healthcare resources, such as the data shown here for the number of hospital beds or the number of medical doctors, are submitted to Eurostat on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement; in other words, there is currently no binding legislation. These data are mainly based on national administrative sources and therefore reflect country-specific ways of organising healthcare and may not be completely comparable; a few countries compile their statistics from surveys. Annual national and regional data for healthcare resources are provided in absolute numbers and in population-standardised rates (per 100 000 inhabitants).

Causes of death

Data on causes of death provide information on mortality patterns and form a major element of public health information. This dataset refers to the underlying cause of death, which – according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – is ‘the disease or injury which initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced the fatal injury’.

Since reference year 2011, data for causes of death have been provided under a specific legal basis, Commission Regulation (EC) No 1338/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on Community statistics on public health and health and safety at work and implementing Regulation (EU) No 328/2011 of 5 April 2011 on Community statistics on public health and health and safety at work, as regards statistics on causes of death.

Causes of death statistics are based on information derived from the medical certificate of cause of death. The medical certification of death is an obligation in all EU Member States. Countries code information on the cause of death (as provided on the medical certificate) into ICD codes. The dataset is built upon standards laid out in the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). The ICD provides codes, rules and guidelines for mortality coding. Statistics presented in this publication are based on the 10th edition of the ICD (ICD-10). Eurostat’s causes of death statistics are classified according to 86 different causes that together compose a European shortlist (2012) of causes of death. Note that ICD-11 has already been adopted and came into effect at the start of 2022.

Statistics on causes of death are available analysed by cause of death, sex, five-year age group, residency and country of death. Annual data are provided in absolute numbers, as crude death rates and as standardised death rates. While the majority of regional data published for causes of death is presented in the form of three-year averages (to smooth the impact of outliers), the information presented in this chapter refers to death rates for NUTS level 2 regions of residence for the latest reference year.

As the population structure of a region (or country) can strongly influence crude death rates, regional (and national) comparisons are normally made on the basis of standardised death rates, taking into account age effects. The standardised death rate is computed as a weighted average of age-specific mortality rates (where the weighting factor is the age distribution of a standard reference population). As most causes of death vary significantly with people’s age and sex, the use of standardised death rates improves comparability over time and between regions (and countries).

Indicator definitions

Available beds in hospitals

Hospital bed numbers provide information on healthcare capacities, in this case the maximum number of patients who can be treated in hospitals. The total number of hospital beds includes all hospital beds which are regularly maintained and staffed and immediately available for the care of admitted patients. This count is equal to the sum of the following four categories: i) curative (acute) care beds; ii) rehabilitative care beds; iii) long-term care beds; and iv) other hospital beds.

Medical doctors

A medical doctor (or physician) has a degree in medicine. Practising physicians are those who have successfully completed studies in medicine at university level, have a license to practise and who are working to provide services to individual patients (conducting medical examinations, making diagnoses, performing operations). Excluded from the count of practising physicians are students who have not yet graduated, unemployed physicians, retired physicians or physicians working abroad, as well as physicians working in administration, research or other posts that do not involve direct contact with patients.

Eurostat gives preference to the concept of ‘practising physicians’, although some data may be presented for ‘professionally active physicians’ (a practising physician or any other physician for whom a medical education is a prerequisite for the execution of their job), or for ‘licensed physicians’ (a broader concept, encompassing the other two types of physician as well as other registered physicians who are entitled to practise as healthcare professionals but are unemployed, retired, and so on).


A death, according to the United Nations definition, is the ‘permanent disappearance of all vital functions without possibility of resuscitation at any time after a live birth has taken place’; this definition therefore excludes foetal deaths (stillbirths).

Causes of death

The underlying cause of death is defined as the disease or injury which started the train (sequence) of morbid (disease-related) events which led directly to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence which produced the fatal injury. Although international definitions are harmonised, the resulting statistics on causes of death may not be fully comparable across countries, as classifications may vary when the cause of death is multiple or difficult to evaluate, and because of different notification procedures.

Within this publication, data are presented for the main cause of death (according to ICD-10):

  • all causes of death (as defined by ICD-10 A–R and V–Y);
  • cancer (malignant neoplasms) (ICD-10 C);
    • lung cancer (malignant neoplasm of trachea, bronchus and lung) (ICD-10 C33 and C34);
    • colorectal cancer (malignant neoplasm of colon, rectosigmoid junction, rectum, anus and anal canal) (ICD-10 C18, C19, C20 and C21);
    • breast cancer (malignant neoplasm of breast) (ICD-10 C50);
    • prostate cancer (malignant neoplasm of prostate) (ICD-10 C61);
  • diseases of the circulatory system (ICD-10 I);
  • diseases of the respiratory system (ICD-10 J);
  • other causes of death (ICD-10 A–R and V–Y other than C, I and J).


Within the European Commission, policy actions within the health domain generally fall under the responsibility of the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety and the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Such actions are focused on protecting people from health threats and disease, providing consumer protection (food safety issues), promoting lifestyle choices (fitness and healthy eating), as well as workplace safety.

The EU’s main policy objectives include: improving access to healthcare for all through effective, accessible and resilient health systems; fostering health coverage as a way of reducing inequalities and tackling social exclusion; promoting health information and education, healthier lifestyles and individual well-being; investing in health through disease prevention; improving safety standards for patients, pharmaceuticals/drugs and medical devices; guaranteeing/recognising prescriptions in other EU Member States.

Health systems across the EU are organised, financed and managed in very different ways and the responsibility for the delivery of health services largely resides with individual EU Member States. Policy developments for the EU are based on an open method of coordination, a voluntary process based on agreeing common objectives and helping national authorities cooperate. The COVID-19 crisis underlined the issue of cooperation on health matters within the EU and focused attention on the ability of the EU to respond to shocks and health crises.

Regulation (EU) 2021/522 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 March 2021 establishing a Programme for the Union’s action in the field of health (‘EU4health programme’) for the period 2021–2027 provides funding to EU Member States, health organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and is designed, among other objectives, to boost the EU’s preparedness for major cross-border health threats by creating:

  • reserves of medical supplies for crises;
  • a reserve of healthcare staff and experts that can be mobilised to respond to crises across the EU;
  • increased surveillance of health threats.

EU4Health has a budget of €5.8 billion for the period 2021–2027 and will support a longer-term vision of improving health outcomes via efficient and inclusive health systems across the EU Member States, through 10 specific objectives that are classified under the four general goals:

  • improve and foster health in the EU
    • disease prevention and health promotion
    • international health initiatives and cooperation
  • tackle cross-border health threats
    • prevention, preparedness and response to cross-border health threats
    • complementing national stockpiling of essential crisis-relevant products
    • establishing a reserve of medical, healthcare and support staff
  • improve medicinal products, medical devices and crisis-relevant products
    • making medicinal products, medical devices and crisis-relevant products available and affordable
  • strengthen health systems, their resilience and resource efficiency
    • strengthening health data, digital tools and services, digital transformation of healthcare
    • improving access to healthcare
    • developing and implementing EU health legislation and evidence-based decision making
    • integrated work among national health systems

EU4Health will also invest in urgent health priorities, including Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. The President of the European Commission highlighted a ‘European plan to fight cancer, to support Member States in improving cancer control and care’ among a number of political guidelines for the period 2019–2024.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was presented by the European Commission in February 2021. It is built around 10 flagship initiatives and several supporting actions and is designed to support the work of EU Member States in preventing cancer and ensuring a high quality of life for cancer patients, survivors, their families and carers. The plan aims to tackle the entire disease pathway of cancer. It is structured around four key action areas where the EU can add the most value: i) prevention; ii) early detection; iii) diagnosis and treatment; and iv) quality of life of cancer patients and survivors.

The research framework programme – Horizon Europe – will also be reinforced to fund vital research in health. This will include initiatives to scale-up the research effort for challenges such as those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the extension of clinical trials, innovative protective measures, virology, vaccines, treatments and diagnostics, and the translation of research findings into public health policy measures.

Research funding through the Horizon programme incorporates research and innovation missions to increase the effectiveness of funding by pursuing clearly defined targets. Five missions have been identified, one of which is the cancer mission. By joining efforts across the EU, the mission on cancer together with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan aims to provide a better understanding of cancer, allow for earlier diagnosis and optimise treatment and improve cancer patients’ quality of life during and beyond their cancer treatment.

EU cohesion policy also funds health as a key asset for regional development and competitiveness in order to reduce economic and social disparities. Support may address a number of different areas such as the EU’s ageing population, healthcare infrastructure and sustainable systems, e-health, health coverage, and health promotion programmes.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Frösunda (Sweden) is an EU agency that provides surveillance of emerging health threats so that the EU can respond more rapidly. It pools knowledge on current and emerging threats and works with national counterparts to develop disease monitoring across the EU.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is located in Amsterdam (the Netherlands), helps national regulators by coordinating scientific assessments concerning the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines used across the EU. All medicines in the EU must be approved nationally or by the EU before being placed on the market. The safety of pharmaceuticals that are sold in the EU is monitored throughout a product’s life cycle and individual products may be banned, or their sales/marketing suspended.

On a more practical level, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows travellers from one EU Member State to obtain medical treatment if they fall ill whilst temporarily visiting another Member State, EFTA country or the United Kingdom. The EU has also introduced legislation on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare (Directive 2011/24/EU), which allows patients to travel abroad for treatment when this is either necessary (specialist treatment is only available abroad) or easier (if the nearest hospital is just across a border).

In July 2021, the EU Digital COVID Certificate entered into force to facilitate safe, free movement within the EU during the COVID-19 crisis. The certificate is proof that a person has either been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19. A person who has a valid certificate should in principle not be subject to additional restrictions, such as tests or quarantine, regardless of their place of departure in the EU.

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Manuals and further methodological information


Maps can be explored interactively using Eurostat’s statistical atlas (see user manual).

This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook.