Andrzej Rys, Director for health systems, medical products and innovation in the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety at the European Commission
In the space of a few short weeks, an unknown virus has totally upset our way of living, both as individuals and as a society. As this newsletter reaches you, we have already lost so many, too many, lives across Europe – and in the world – and our health workforce is being put under unprecedented pressure in dealing with this threat. It is precisely at moments like these that Europe has to be strong, needs to join all forces and show its extraordinary solidarity and capacity for supporting each other.
In this context, I would like to stress how pioneering the ERNs have been, and how their example is inspiring some of the European Commission’s actions to address the many challenges we have ahead. Based on the ERNs’ experience we have put in place the Covid-19 Clinical Management Support System (CMSS) to support doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals in hospitals that are currently dealing with Covid-19 cases all over the EU, the UK and the EEA countries. This system allows the professionals to communicate easily with colleagues, exchange knowledge, discuss cases and improve training, namely via webinars and with the support of a helpdesk managed by DG SANTE, open 7/7 from 8.00 to 21.00.
The ERNs also stimulated the analysis of the recent feasibility study on setting up a European Expert Network for rare communicable diseases and other rare pathologies in the context of mobility and globalisation. Published before the Covid-19 outbreak, this feasibility study is all the more relevant in the current context.
I would like to emphasise the reactivity and professionalism of all ERNs which have put in place specific advisory initiatives to inform and guide patients affected by rare diseases who have caught the virus (or are suspected to have).
Europe has sometimes been criticised in this period for a lack of coordination and solidarity, often unfairly. I would like to invite you to visit the corporate webpage which explains the many initiatives that the European Commission is coordinating, from joint procurements for delivering medical equipment and supplies to the Member States most in need, to setting up the rescEU stockpiling system to create a common European reserve of medical equipment. On 2 April the Commission proposed postponing the application of the Medical Devices Regulation by one year to ensure the availability of vital medical devices across the EU and avoid any additional regulatory burdens that the implementation of the new rules would have implied. In addition, still on 2 April, the Commission adopted guidelines to facilitate cross-border healthcare cooperation and make it easier to transfer patients from one EU country to another when capacity for treating Covid-19 patients is limited.
On 8 April the Commission issued guidelines for the supply of medicines, to ensure safety of supply’, ease their transport, allocation and use, and to prevent any shortages. The same day it also adopted a recommendation to help countries manage the distancing measures and the forthcoming exit strategies through mobile data and apps, followed on 16 April by a toolbox. On 15 April the Commission presented a joint European roadmap towards lifting Covid-19 containment measures. This was accompanied by guidelines on in vitro diagnostic tests to ensure the efficiency of testing tools whose reliability is fundamental to support Member State national strategies. These are only a few of the measures we are proposing to help Member States and health professionals to cope with the crisis.
At this critical time I would like to repeat the support of the European Commission, and particularly DG SANTE, for all involved in fighting the virus, and for all who are directly and indirectly suffering from it. This crisis is showing us how health is one of our most precious common goods and how, together, we can mobilize all efforts to protect it and make it the major priority of our society.