The EU's strategy for protecting and improving human health is chiefly implemented by its health programme. Its annual objectives are shared with that of the EU's overall growth programme, the EU 2020 Strategy, making it a 'Health for Growth' strategy. As such, its long-term budget priorities are negotiated as part of the overall EU financial framework for periods of 7 years.

Funding for growth through health

The budget allocation for the ‘Health for Growth’ programme for the period 2014-2020 is 446 million euro, which is an allocation of over 60 million euro per year. The programme's objective is to concentrate on the main areas in which the European Union can bring real added-value in the field of health. It is written into the EU 2020 strategy and aims to boost innovation in healthcare systems and ensure their sustainability, whilst improving the quality of life of European citizens.

These funds will complement a series of health-related measures funded through the EU's structural funds, which fund the development of its regions and cities, and its framework programme for research and innovation for the period 2014-2020, known as Horizon 2020.

Growth through reform

Public authorities, the private sector, international institutions and non-governmental organisations will be eligible for grants under the Health for Growth programme for co-financing projects. It is essential that the procedures and accessibility of these funds be as simple as possible so that the Member States and health professionals make the best use of them.

Given the general constraints that currently weigh on public finances, a reform of health systems is essential for managing costs whilst at the same time optimising the profitability of the sector and ensuring its capacity to innovate. These reforms are essential for the health system to be able respond to the increasing demand for healthcare caused by the ageing of the population, and to continue to offer quality healthcare to future generations.

What am I pushing for?

It is important that the programme focuses on neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. These are chronic diseases with specific characteristics: they affect primarily elderly people and lead to the complete dependency of the person with the disease on others. These diseases currently affect a large number of people, with over 7 million suffering from some form of dementia in Europe.

In my capacity as Rapporteur, which gives me responsibility for defining Parliament's position on the priorities of the programme, I have been keen for the ageing dimension to be included as part of its general objectives.

The programme may also provide support, under its different objectives, to specific actions under the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing launched by the European Commission. Its three priorities can make an important contribution: innovation in awareness, prevention and early diagnosis; innovation in treatment and healthcare, in particular for neurodegenerative diseases; and innovation to enable active and independent living.

How should the objectives of the third multi-annual health programme be achieved?

This third health programme will also contribute to fighting age-related diseases by focusing both on prevention and innovation. By keeping individuals in good health for as long as possible, as well as maintaining their capacity to remain physically and socially active, we will also be able to optimise their positive impact on productivity and competitiveness.

By having clearly-defined objectives, the programme seeks to avoid duplication of effort across Member States and make better use of dwindling financial resources. It is not the aim of the programme to provide an exhaustive list of pathologies; rather having a list of measures must be avoided because this would lead to a scattering of the available resources.

In line with the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the Programme should instead focus on a set of well-defined objectives and actions with clear, proven EU added-value, and concentrate support on a smaller number of activities in priority areas.

The programme has four goals: boosting innovation, improving access to better and safer healthcare, improving the prevention of disease and protecting citizens from cross-border health threats. The financial split between these goals must not be fixed, however. Classifying these objectives and granting each of them a predefined budget line could limit the scope of some projects.

To achieve its aims of prevention, risk factors must be better identified so that more efficient strategies are put in place. The main risk factors – including unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles - must be taken into account for appropriate and efficient prevention of chronic diseases.

The ageing of the population must also be better taken into account in the Programme to better tackle age-related diseases. It is a horizontal theme which crosses three of the programme’s objectives: contributing to innovative and sustainable health systems; increasing access to better and safer healthcare for EU citizens; and preventing diseases and promoting good health.

Next steps

My report will be voted in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee on 20 June.

Other related content