EPSU on the agreement on financing the European Union Health Programme (EU4Health)

EPSU Health action Brussels 29 October 2020 Rond Point Schumann empty seats

(17 December 2020) EU4Health should focus more on the healthcare profession and use the expertise of social partners in delivering the programme.

European Public Service Union welcomes the agreement reached between the Council and the Parliament on financing the European Union Health Union programme (EU4 Health) as the part of the recently agreed EU Multinational Financial Framework.  The approved budget of 5,1 billion Euros is urgently needed for the European health services. EPSU has underlined the central role of public services and workers in protecting the health of people in Europe.  As stated by the EPSU General Secretary: Health workers deliver the necessary medical care to deal with all health threats. Little has been done to ensure a coordinated effort to reduce staff shortages, improve health and safety and the working conditions of healthcare staff[1].

The programme aims to invest in health promotion, disease preventions and addresses the cross-border health threats in order to improve the quality and ‘resilience’ of European health systems.

EPSU reiterates that successful implementation of the objectives of EU4Healh programme will depend on having enough qualified and well-paid healthcare workers. The pandemic shows that the inadequate level of staffing caused by permanent underinvestment, austerity measures and privatisations was one of the largest obstacles for the public health systems dealing with the pandemic. Quality health care can only delivered by qualified workers, employed with quality working conditions and with resilient health systems. Health promotion and disease preventions depends on the people. More importantly, an adequate number of health professionals will be crucial to vaccinate the EU population in a short period of time.

Although the EU has no competences nor funding to support health care workers it can be more active in addressing the problems of recruitment and retention of medical personnel. It has already proposed to support transfer of medical workers between the countries to address staff shortages in case of cross border health threats. More should be done to make the medical professions more attractive for EU population, We should not be relying on migration of nurses and doctors from third countries which causes a brain drain in the sending countries. More should be done to make access to education easier. And the European Commission can assist by improving occupational health and safety of working in care in particular, tackling cancer or work related stress.  To that end the EU should use the opportunity of the 4th revision of Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive by extending the number of subsentences including hazardous medicinal products. Almost 13 million health professionals in Europe are occupationally exposed to deadly hazardous drugs[2].

EPSU welcomes the commitment of the EU4Health programme to reduce health inequalities between and within Member States. All EU citizens should have equal access to medicine and quality medical treatment. We do recall that the funding is below what is needed to fully realise the ambitious programme and welcome that the European Parliament has realised an increase of the funding following actions the trade unions on 29 October..

Finally, EPSU reiterates the crucial role of social partners in delivering EU health initiatives, in particular in the EU4Health steering group. Trade unions and employers’ organisations are the best informed bodies about the health situation and needs on the national, local and shop floor level, therefore their advice will be essential in the successful implementation of the programme.

[1] https://www.epsu.org/article/commission-s-plan-european-health-union-first-step-more-be-done-strengthen-public-health

[2] https://www.epsu.org/article/social-partners-discuss-pharmaceutical-strategy-and-beat-cancer-plan-european-commission