Good to know public health is a priority for the European Parliament – but what’s the end game?

EP Brussels building ©CanStockPhoto dimarik

The establishment of a sub-committee on health (18 January) in the European Parliament seems like good news – at first.

Most Europeans expect health to be a European priority. The citizens’ panels of the recent Conference on the Future of Europe made this clear, with conclusions calling on Europe to do more to deliver effective, accessible, affordable, high-quality and resilient health systems. Greater investment in public health and social care will be crucial to achieving this.

The Conference recognised that the priority should be to strengthen public (and not-for profit) health and social care - not profit-making providers. There was an understanding that the increasing commercialisation of health and social care has undermined equal access and affordability of services, not improved it. Commercialisation – turning health into a commodity like any other - drains public resources away from where they are needed and may increase inequalities, making it harder for the EU to protect people’s health and well-being, and thus not delivering on the One Health objectives of the WHO.

We have not yet heard that the sub-committee will work to reverse the commercialisation of health and social care.  Without such a commitment, the  sub-committee may be more easily swayed by lobbying from pharma and health companies that do not have the general interest at the heart of their operations.   

Will the sub-committee deliver better health outcomes for people? If this is the aim, public service principles of accessibility, affordability and quality services must be at the forefront of it’s work. Only this way will the sub-committee contribute to achieving the right for all in the EU to enjoy good health and have equal access to affordable and high-quality health and social care services; delivered by resilient, well-staffed and well-equipped public systems with universal coverage - regardless of economic situation and place of residence.

We read daily about the problems staff shortages are causing. These staff shortages are related to low pay for many workers in health and care and to a lack of recognition of the work that is being doing by what all agree were the heroes during the pandemic. We expect the sub-committee to quickly meet with the European trade unions and employers to discuss this, and to call upon the European Commissioner for Health to meet with the employers and unions. This is still not done.

Without a clear mandate to this effect, the work of the sub-committee will not lead to positive outcomes for citizens.