EPSU hosts ‘Health before profits!’ conference at European Parliament

EPSU ‘Health before profits!’ conference, European Parliament

(15 April 2024) EPSU and a coalition of civil society organisations held a European Parliament conference on the commercialisation of care as part of their ‘Health before profits!’ European election campaign.

The conference, held on Monday, 8 April 2024, followed a demonstration that was held at Place Luxembourg the previous day – World Health Day. Both the conference and demonstration were organised by three civil society organisations representing health and care workers, users, campaigners, NGOs and other associations: the European Federation of Public Service Trade Unions (EPSU), Peoples Health Movement and the ‘Our Health is Not For Sale’ Network.

MEP Marc Botenga (Belgium, The Left) opened the conference by outlining the potentially devastating impact that proposed European economic governance rules could have on the health sector. He highlighted a new ETUC study that shows that the EU is already struggling to meet its health investment needs – but that under the new economic governance rules, 18 European Member States would be unable to reach their social infrastructure investment targets.

Gloria Ghéquière (Cabinet of Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke) reflected on the work of the Belgian Presidency in the area of health, highlighting the recent High-Level Conference on the Future of the EU Health Union (in which EPSU participated) as an important forum for addressing the needs of Europe’s health and care workforce. She emphasised the role that social partners can play in developing a Health Workforce Strategy and outlined the work to be done on pharmaceutical policy, including the Critical Medicines Act. The Pandemic Treaty was also discussed, with Ghéquière expressing her support of patent sharing within the treaty.

Representatives from the ‘Health before profits… let’s change Europe!’ European election campaign presented their ‘seven symptoms of a European disease’ – namely the commercialisation of health and care in Europe - and the proposed ‘treatment’. The ‘treatment’ consists of seven thematic policy documents that can be used on national and European levels to engage with European election candidates in the run-up to June’s European elections. The policy documents cover essential health policy themes, including the right to healthcare, big pharma, public investment and health democracy.

A group of health and care workers from Spain, Czechia and Germany discussed the situations and priorities on national levels. All workers agreed that staff shortages are the single most significant challenge facing Europe’s health systems, regardless of national differences. Their testimonies echoed WHO-Europe findings which described workforce gaps in health and care as a ‘ticking timebomb’.

A representative from Medicine For the People presented the demands of the #FairFarma campaign, of which EPSU is part of along with the Belgian health mutualities CM-MC and Solidaris; the three Belgian trade-union confederations, ACV-CSC, ABVV-FGTB and ACLVB-CGLSB; the non-profit sector health unions PULS and CNE; 11.11.11, CNCD, Oxfam, WSM, Medicine for the People, Viva Salud and Dokters van de Wereld—Médecins du monde. The #FairFarma campaign calls for fair prices for medicines, greater transparency, fair use of intellectual property and an end to secret contracts. She drew on the famous quote from Jonas Salk who, when asked who owned the patent for his polio vaccine, answered: “The people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

The conference ended with a debate between panellists and members of the audience on what priorities European political groups should set in order to change the course of Europe’s health systems. The consensus was clear: Europe urgently needs to shift focus to safe staffing, public funding, the right to healthcare for all and an end to the commercialisation of health and care.