Goodbye 2016: time for a healthier 2017?


I hope you had a lovely festive season with family and friends and a wonderful start to 2017. Christmas presents have been unwrapped, mince pies have been eaten, crackers have been pulled, and toasts have been made to welcome the New Year. Time now to take down the Christmas decorations and put those New Year resolutions into action.

2016 – a year that we will never forget

2016 will be remembered as a year of political earthquakes, with Brexit and Donald Trump, symbols of modern day political revolt.

In a year when the phrase, ‘post-truth’ entered the Oxford Dictionary, it’s appeals to emotion, rather than, objective facts that are shaping our political era and campaigns, such as, Brexit’s fictitious £350 million a week for the NHS.

No one seemed to have really seen this coming and it has caught us in a tailspin. Great artistic talents in the worlds of music and film have also left our world in 2016.

After so many shockwaves in 2016, what does 2017 have in store for us?

It will be a politically campaigning year, with presidential and parliamentary elections in France and Germany, general elections in the Netherlands, Norway and the Czech Republic, presidential elections in Hungary and Slovenia and local elections in Portugal. The UK will also start to make Brexit a reality, by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and getting leaving talks with the EU under way. There will also be local elections in the UK that could be dominated by the Brexit aftermath.

What about EU health policy matters in 2017? What are just some of the things we can expect in 2017?

Healthcare systems are facing profound challenges. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that “a people-centred approach promises to raise care quality, improve outcomes and enable better resource allocation, but most health systems are yet to fully embrace it.” The majority of EU Member States are also members of the OECD. The OECD Policy Forum on the Future of Health, taking place on 16 January 2017 in Paris, will bring together healthcare stakeholders from across the world to explore how people-centred care can be properly embedded into health systems. On 17 January 2017, Ministers from over 35 OECD and partner countries will exchange their ideas, ambitions and challenges for ‘The Next Generation of Health Reforms’.

Malta takes on the Presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January to 30 June 2017. Malta plans to focus on a whole range of health issues from cross-border healthcare, the accessibility and affordability of medicines, childhood obesity to e-health.

During its Presidency, it will host a Conference on HIV co-organised with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), from 30-31 January 2017 in St. Julians. The conference will bring together leading experts on HIV prevention and control from across the EU to discuss how Europe can improve its response to HIV. The results of the conference will be translated into a Malta Declaration.

It is under the Maltese Presidency that we will also see the final Conference of the Joint Action On Comprehensive Cancer Control. The conference will be held in Malta from 14-15 February 2017. The conference will include the launch and presentation of the key findings and recommendations of the European Guide on Quality Improvement in Comprehensive Cancer Control. This publication will be the main deliverable of the Joint Action. The Guide will provide information and advice for decision-makers and cancer care professionals in Europe.

It was originally intended of course for the UK to hold the Presidency from 1 July to 31 December 2017. However, with Brexit this has been abandoned and will be replaced by Estonia instead. Apparently, alcohol policy will be an area of focus for Estonia.

The only reference to health in the European Commission work programme for 2017, is the plan to introduce an initiative on coordinated health technology assessments. This is expected towards the end of 2017.

Though not mentioned in the work programme itself, the European Commission will launch a New Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance in 2017. Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis has stated that “to further cement the EU’s position as global leader in the fight against Antimicrobial Resistance the European Commission will launch, in 2017, a second Action Plan building upon and strengthening the work already done and supporting Member States in the implementation and monitoring of their National Action Plans.”

The European Commission’s second report on the Paediatric Regulation is also due in 2017. This will follow the targeted stakeholder consultation on the experience acquired with the Paediatric Regulation, which closes on 20 February 2017.

Health related discussions will continue around the revision of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), around the marketing of food and drink to children.

The echoes of “Brexit means Brexit” and what exactly this means for health will be played out in terms of discussions from the NHS and its workforce, EU health research, cross-border healthcare, clinical trials to the question of the relocation of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

This of course is just a glimpse of some of what’s in store for us in 2017 on the EU health policy front. There will be much more going on too. We will just have to see how healthy a year 2017 will become.