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Open Access Government places care policy in Europe under the spotlight, including support for caregivers and those with rare diseases or cancer

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recently highlighted several European care policy issues. Here, we discuss some of what the EESC and the European Commission do around this crucial health policy area.

EESC calls for more support for family caregivers

In November last year, the EESC called on the European Union (EU) and its Member States to make a more concrete care policy with strong measures to support the health, financial and housing requirements needs of the increasing number of individuals giving long-term care of a family member. The EESC Opinion on The role of family members caring for people with disabilities and older persons is interesting. The Rapporteur of this, Pietro Vittorio Barbieri, said all measures to improve life for carers of loved ones with degenerative or chronic diseases or disabilities must be taken together by family caregivers and the organisations that represent them, employers and policy-makers.

“The first step is recognising the value of their work and giving them a say on the assistance they provide”, Barbieri said. “The second step is ensuring housing services and support to prevent isolation, marginalisation, and physical and mental overload. Clearly, if countries can guarantee certain services will be provided, it will take some of the load off family members,” Barbieri added. (1)

Support for patients with rare diseases

During the same month, the EESC asked the EU to comprehensively give faster treatment and further support for patients with rare diseases. “When it comes to healthcare accessibility today, it takes five to seven years for a rare disease to be diagnosed correctly and for the appropriate treatment to be provided,” Alain Coheur noted, Rapporteur of the Opinion Ensuring strong European solidarity for rare disease patients. A diagnosis should take place within a year, we hear. “70% of these rare diseases occur during childhood, and it is vital that they be detected early. Possibly even at the prenatal stage, because that is when the most effective intervention can take place. We are calling on Member States and the Commission to provide more support and faster treatments for rare disease patients,” Coheur adds. (2)

European Care Strategy

In January, the EESC applauded the Commission’s proposed European Care Strategy as vital towards the goal of an affordable and available care structure in Europe that sees to the requirements of “care receivers from birth to old age” and is supportive of “all care providers regardless of their employment status”. In the EESC opinion, they put forward some recommendations for the Strategy. They repeated its desire to initiate a European Care Guarantee. “In addition to being available, accessible and affordable, we also maintain that care should be inclusive, sustainable and human rights-based. High-quality care for all is still not a reality for many in Europe and this was one of the push factors behind the strategy”, Kinga Joó, Rapporteur of the Opinion, says. (3)

An earlier EESC Opinion said that for Europe’s care sector to respond to increased care demands for the elderly, political will with a strong care policy at a national level and EU action is crucial. “Care is the competence of Member States. The next step is to see how Member States will implement recommendations and different aspects of the care strategy”, underlines Katarina Ivanković-Knežević, Director for Social Rights and Inclusion at the Commission. (4)

When the care policy Strategy was launched in September 2022 by the Commission, they underlined the importance of “high-quality, affordable and accessible care services with better working conditions and work-life balance for carers”. At the time, Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, summed up some of what the Strategy is about: “The European Care Strategy is about putting people first. The EU recognises the value of care work, which must be reflected in better working conditions and pay. People in need of long-term care must be guaranteed access to affordable services of good quality so they can live a dignified life.” (5)

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan

At the Commission, the Directorate-General Sante is the department responsible for EU food safety and health policy. The leadership there notably includes Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety (6). Of course, care is one of the themes within her remit. Amongst her many responsibilities is Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (7), the Commission’s collective and renewed support of cancer care, prevention and treatment. Commissioner Kyriakides sums up the Plan superbly in her own words: “It is the first time we have such an ambitious, comprehensive and well-funded plan at EU level that allows us to work so closely and in such a coordinated manner across the EU to bring about change for cancer patients, families, society. This is an opportunity that we must seize to try and reduce the worrying cancer trend in the EU.” (8)

In a speech by Commissioner Kyriakides at the Stand Up to Cancer Event, she underlined precisely how essential it is for patient advocates, medical professionals and policy-makers to make sure that each patient receives excellent treatment and care “with equal access to the full range of professionals, treatments and medicines.” (9)

Supporting the care policy in Europe

Did you know that in the future, technologies such as AI have the scope to deliver remarkable health benefits, especially concerning cancer care, detection, and treatment? (10) This is evidenced in the Cancer Imaging initiative, a key instance of how the Commission makes “the best use of the potential of innovative digital solutions under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to change the realities for cancer patients and their families,” Commissioner Kyriakides said earlier this year. (11)

A thought-provoking place to finish our analysis is with Commissioner Kyriakides’s following comment concerning healthcare in Ukraine. “Ukraine’s healthcare system and healthcare professionals have demonstrated immense resilience and an incredible capacity to provide health care under extremely difficult circumstances. We will continue to support these efforts.” (12)

In this analysis, we have examined some valuable examples of how care is supported in Europe through the eyes of the EESC and the Commission. Nevertheless, while all this and more is happening, we pause to think about those providing care in Ukraine under remarkably tough circumstances.




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