Social and geographical inequalities in Europeans’ health are one of the main challenges for the EU, says health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. “You see inequalities around the EU, but also inequalities within every member state,” he told EUobserver in an interview.
Andriukaitis, who late last year presented the State of Health in the EU report, insisted that “in some parts of society, access to treatment, because of inequalities, are challenging issues.”
“We are speaking about 150 million Europeans who are in difficulties – 30 million in absolute poverty,” he said. “You need to guarantee access to treatment, especially innovative treatment,” he said, adding that “financial shortages and very high price of medicine” make it very difficult. He also noted that in some regions, “access to treatment is lower because you don’t have enough general practitioners and nurses.”
Life expectancy in the EU ranges from 74.5 years to 83.3, with an EU average of 80.9.
The Lithuanian politician, who is a former doctor, also blamed the “social dumping” within the EU that deprives countries like Hungary, Romania or Lithuania of doctors and nurses. “They are going to richer countries for better salaries and better living conditions,” he said, noting that since the financial crisis, the convergence between salaries in different member states has stopped. “It’s time to discuss how to resolve issues related to social dumping,” he said.
He added that it’s also time to sign agreements between countries that spend public money to train doctors and nurses, and “richer EU countries” where the trainees go to work. Andriukaitis ruled out however the creation of a single EU social system.
“Going towards unification is not the way,” he said.
Referring to the existing models based on different historical traditions – such as the Bismarck model or the Beveridge model – he insisted that asking which system is better was an “absolutely wrong question.” “Differences between member states is Europe’s trend and asset. We can learn a lot [from each other], we can provide a lot of private projects and flexible systems,” he said.
He argued that the country profiles included in the State of Health report would help to use data “to discuss concrete issues in a deeper way,” and that there would be no fingerpointing from the commission. “Shaming and blaming is unacceptable,” he said.
The commissioner said that the EU needed to develop training and incentives for young professionals and develop e-health programmes, in particular for primary care. “We need to clusterise, to have a network of networks,” he said.
“If you look at local communities and primary care situation, you can build systems which can unite different actors and patients