Keep health front and centre in the EU elections and beyond – a call from the Patient Think Tank

The Patient Think Tank (PTT) is a forum for dialogue between the European research-based pharmaceutical industry and patient organisations, created and convened by EFPIA regularly for over 20 years and co-chaired by the European Patients Forum (EPF).

Its member organisations work to improve the health of European patients and populations, and know first-hand that health matters for Europe’s future, economic security, and crisis preparedness.

As millions of Europeans get ready to vote for their representatives in the European Parliament this week, the Patient Think Tank calls on candidates in the EU elections to prioritise health in the next policy cycle. Because Europe will not be able to shape a prosperous future for itself and its citizens without healthy populations.

European citizens know how essential health is. They ranked it as a key priority in a recent Eurobarometer survey, thus sending a clear message to policymakers: health is as important to them as security and defence or fighting poverty. 

The time is now for the EU’s future policymakers to reflect citizens’ focus on health.

Much is at stake. The continent is getting older, health budgets are getting tighter, and more people are living with or caring for someone experiencing acute and/or chronic disease. Noncommunicable diseases alone – e.g., cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or mental disorders – are responsible for 80% of the disease burden and are the leading causes of avoidable premature deaths in the EU.[1]

These epidemiological shifts come amid severe shortages of healthcare professionals. As said by WHO Europe’s Hans Kluge at the European Health Forum Gastein in September 2023: “We could face a crippling shortage of nearly 1.8 million healthcare workers, and the numbers are climbing”. “In some countries there are just 2.4 doctors for every 1000 people. That’s not a gap. It’s a gulf.”[2] And it’s a gulf with serious consequences for patients’ access to prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care. 

Despite these worrying trends, health is far from being at the forefront of the European parties’ electoral Manifestos.

Unless upcoming EU policymakers prioritise health, it will fall off the policy agenda and European citizens risk missing out on the benefits of investing in health.  

Prioritising health yields a dividend measured in years of healthy and productive lives for patients and all citizens, as well as in fiscal sustainability and economic growth. Prevention and early detection of disease means more people staying healthy for longer, releasing health system resources for patients who do become ill. It also means that patients can receive care when the disease is easier to treat, avoiding complications, disease progression and higher human and financial costs for the health and social care systems.

At a time of stretched budgets and resources, policymakers must also remember that health is wealth.

The public and private healthcare sectors are major employers of highly skilled workers in the EU, while contributing to the health and economic growth of the entire society. For example, the research-based biopharmaceutical industry alone directly employs 840,000 people in Europe.

Patient organisations add significant value to health and social systems through the services they provide to patients and by making healthcare design and delivery more efficient and people-centred through patient involvement. For instance, in the Czech Republic, the value of services provided by 7 patient organisations alone amount to up to 76.3 million EUR per year [3] In Hungary, patient organisations’ work in prevention could lead to estimated savings of 448.778 EUR per year to the health system.[4] 

This is why, in a year of significant political change, the members of the Patient Think Tank reiterate the importance and urgency of making health a priority on the EU policy and political agenda. The early and meaningful involvement of patient organisations, alongside other stakeholders, will be critical to policy development, health research, and healthcare practice across health systems.[5]

More work remains to be done. Keep health front and centre in the EU policymaking!

[1] European Commission, ‘Public Health. Non-communicable diseases,’ available here

[2] The BMJ, ‘The European healthcare workforce crisis: how bad is it?’, 2024;384, available here

[3] Ernst&Young Czech Republic, ‘EY analysis quantifies the contribution of patient organisations to the Czech economy,’ available here.

[4] AIPM & Mediconcept, ‘The Value of Patient Organisations Study,’ 2023, available on demand.

[5] European Patients Forum, The Patients’ Organisations Manifesto towards a truly participatory, democratic and impactful involvement of patient organisations,’ available here.