Everybody knows that we’re in the middle of a crisis. People have less money in their pockets; young people are graduating from university with no job to go to. The future of the Euro hangs in the balance.
But it’s not just the health of our economy that’s suffering, the health and wellbeing of ordinary people is feeling the strain of the crisis. Last year there was a 40% rise in suicides in Greece. In the UK we are seeing our National Health Service being pulled apart.
Now more than ever we need a strong health programme in the EU. Of course EU countries all run their own healthcare systems, but working at a European level can add real value. By sharing data, research, ideas and policies across our continent we can achieve much better results for patients than we could if we worked alone.
Look at the work that’s been done under previous EU health programmes on screening guidelines for breast, cervical and now colorectal cancer. By working together we’ve raised the standards across Europe and saved the lives of thousands of people who, without screening, would not have found their cancer until it was too late.
Work has already begun on co-ordinating research into Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, which, as the population ages across Europe, is one of the biggest challenges for our future. Rather than each European country collecting the necessary data, carrying out their own research and trying out different policy solutions, we can work together across the EU to deal with this growing problem much more efficiently.
And if you look at the rise in obesity, which the World Health Organisation describes as one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century, we need to work at a European level. So much of our legislation on food and nutrition labelling is made in Brussels that it would be stupid not to.
I’m currently working on the proposals for the new EU ‘Health for Growth’ programme for 2014-2020. And there’s a lot of work to do, starting with the name, which I want to change to ‘Health for All’. For me health is an invaluable thing in itself, and it shouldn’t be seen as a way to make money. Of course we do have to look at it in the context of the current economic situation, and I think that means looking at prevention strategies as much as possible. If we can tackle smoking, alcohol abuse, unbalanced diets and physical inactivity now, we will save huge amounts of money treating entirely preventable chronic diseases later down the line. But above all our goal should be healthier and happier people, who will, of course, contribute to a healthier economy.