The pandemic has been a brutal reminder of the importance of healthcare systems. Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions were accepted by the public as a way to help “flatten the curve” and preserve healthcare capacity. Images of overwhelmed ICUs and exhausted nurses and doctors have become a fixture of the COVID-19 crisis, and public cheering and clapping for healthcare workers became commonplace (at least during the initial phase of the pandemic).
The think tank Friends of Europe discussed the future of European healthcare on 22 March 2021 during their online event “A European prescription for smart, resilient health systems”.
Will coronavirus prompt a debate around the future of healthcare? In the US, for example, could it encourage the “Europeanisation” of their healthcare model? What about the debate in Europe? What sort of healthcare model (or models) should we aim for in the wake of the pandemic?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Jevgeni, who wants to see at least common minimum quality standards for healthcare set across the EU. Should European healthcare adopt a more unified approach?
To get a reaction, we put Jevgeni’s comment to Tamsin Rose, Senior Fellow for Health at Friends of Europe. How would she respond?
Well, how each country organises their healthcare is a national responsibility. However, in our modern age, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are big differences across Europe; what kind of procedures and treatments patients can access in their country is vastly different, usually dependent on how big their country is and how much money it has, i.e. how much it can afford to spend on healthcare.
Obviously, patients find this unfair. So, it would certainly be a good idea if we had a more European approach. Maybe we could look at the way that we deal with social security where we have, at the European level, minimum levels of maternity leave, paternity leave, sick pay, etc.
Of course, countries are free to be more generous, and many of them are. But we could have this minimum level of healthcare that European citizens can guarantee they will have access to. And, maybe that’s where we should be starting from. Of course, the devil is in the detail; how do we agree what would be the minimum basket of healthcare that each citizen could be guaranteed to receive?
For another perspective, we also put Jevgeni’s comment to Jo Maes, Chair of the cross-border patients organisation European Empowerment for Customised Solutions (EPECS). What would he say?
To answer this question, I think we first need to promote a new definition of health, to replace the World Health Organization’s definition of health from 1948. The new definition of health should be based on the concept of ‘positive health’ [proposed by Louis Bolk Institute researchers Machteld Huber and Marja van Vliet].
Positive health is something for you and me, as European citizens. The positive health definition is that health is ‘the ability to adapt and self-manage, in light of the physical, emotional and social challenges of life‘. And this new positive health definition should be the basis for implementing new healthcare systems, as healthcare systems are a response to health problems.
My idea, the idea of EPECS, the idea of positive health is: healthcare should start with patients, with you and me. How can you and I manage our health? And we can do this already when we are small children. So, health should be integrated into primary schools, it should be integrated into all the services, including welfare services. Because, with this new definition of ‘positive health’, everybody can get access to it as a tool and you and I are invited to manage our own health.
Positive health is also not only about being physically healthy, but also asking whether we are appreciated as human beings. Are we invited to participate in society? Do we have a job? I mean, there is a very important relationship between health and having a job, having to do something. So, let’s start at that point in Europe. That would be my first response to this very important question, and then the healthcare systems will follow. And they will adapt to you and I, we, as European citizens picking up and managing our own positive health.
Should we have a European healthcare system? Should cross-border healthcare be more common across the EU? Or should the aim be for citizens to receive healthcare in their country of origin, paid for by their own taxes? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!