The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) brings together over 600 leading experts to Gastein Valley in Austria every year. The unparalleled mix of delegates including country and EU-level representatives from the areas of health policy, science, business and industry and patient organisations has developed the forum into an indispensable institution in the area of European health policy.


Cambre associates’ Senior Adviser for Health & Wellbeing practice, Ben Duncan, was at the European Health Forum Gastein. Ben was bringing you daily updates on the most important debates from the forum and this is the last of three Cambre Gastein Diary round-ups.

Gastein Day Three – Overview

  • Delegates unhappy with lack of action on health policy by the European Commission
  • “Silver economy” has the potential to drive growth and employment in Europe.
  • More cooperation on pricing of medicines expected between the Member States.
  • Voluntary framework – Malta’s answer to rising obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
  • New EU legislation may be needed to ensure universal access to medicines
  • Informal meeting of Health Ministers in Bratislava (3-4 October) to discuss further the actions needed to address AMR, NCDs and access to medicines.

“Health in all Policies” is more than just a slogan

Day 3 of Gastein is when the politicians show up. At the morning press point we had two ministers of health (current and future EU Presidencies), a European Commissioner and an MEP. The theme was “from talk to action”. This was rather intriguing as speakers and delegates had spent much of the conference complaining about the lack of action on health policy by the European Union, and more particularly the Commission. Indeed, over dinner the evening before a conference delegate had pointed out to me that since taking up office in autumn 2014 the Juncker Commission has proposed no new health policy initiatives in terms of proposals for new EU laws or non-binding EU Recommendations.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Health, opened his remarks by telling us that all actors need to work together for better health. “We need to work with regional authorities, local authorities, local citizens” and also civil society. Dr Andriukaitis told us that the concept of “Health in all Policies” is more than just a slogan. “Demographic change is not only the responsibility of health ministers. Ministers of education, employment, transport, environment, urban planning, city mayors – all actors are facing the same issues of demographic change.” He also talked of the opportunities from demographic change. The “silver economy” (goods and services for people over 65) “is the third largest economy in the world, and has the potential to drive growth and employment in Europe”.


Bratislava meeting to focus on AMR and access to medicines

Tomáš Drucker, Minister of Health for Slovakia (current holder of the EU Presidency), reminded us that he will be hosting an informal meeting of EU health minister is Bratislava on 3 and 4 October. On the agenda are Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), with a focus on the fight against multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Europe, and access to medicines. Both AMR and access to medicines are themes continued from the Dutch EU Presidency in the first half of 2016. Member States are exploring how they can cooperate with each other in negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry on the price of medicines. There is particular interest in national health systems in new medicines that bring major new benefits to patients (as opposed to new drugs that merely replicate existing treatments): how can these innovative medicines be identified and secure for patients at reasonable cost? “Availability and shortages of medicines… is crucial and very critically relevant for patients and the government. We are challenging how to promote new innovative tracks into the national systems to ensure affordability,” said Mr Drucker.

Guidelines – enough to tackle non-communicable diseases?

Both Tomáš Drucker and Christopher Fearne, Minister of Health for Malta (which takes over the EU Presidency on 1 January 2017) stressed the importance of tackling what WHO calls non-communicable diseases (lifestyle related diseases such as heart disease, most cancers and diabetes). These are the main cause of death and illness in Europe, and indeed worldwide. Obesity and overweight are key risk factors for many non-communicable diseases and Dr Fearne admitted that Malta has a particular problem in this area. The data shows that Malta has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the EU. 80% of Malta’s food is imported, so Dr Fearne is particularly keen to make progress on the topic of food reformulation. He would like to see EU level benchmarks on the amount of salt, fat and sugar that processed food contains. Dr Fearne was clear, however, that “We are proposing a voluntary framework [on food reformulations]. We are proposing guidelines which will serve as a point of reference for different communities.”

New EU legislation needed to ensure access to medicines

Karen Kadenbach, an Austrian Social Democrat Member of the European Parliament (MEP), endorsed Commissioner Andriukaitis’s comments on the importance of the “Health in all policies” approach. She also endorsed the work being done by the Slovak Presidency (and previously by the Dutch Presidency) on access to medicines. The European Parliament’s ENVI Committee, which covers health issues, has developed an own initiative report of this topic. A first draft of ENVI’s report on access to medicines will be discussed in committee soon.

“Everyone has a right to good healthcare, so it is vital that medicines are available in the EU to all citizens at a fair, equitable and affordable price. We feel that this is not guaranteed at the moment and much needs to be done.”, said Ms Kadenbach. In her view, securing access to medicines will need a new EU legislation. The health ministers, however, took a different view. “At the Informal Meeting of Health Ministers (3 – 4 October) we will discuss informal goals” said Tomáš Drucker of Slovakia. “Some topics split the Member States so it is best to discuss them in this informal setting”.