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Commission’s plan for a European Health Union is a first step – more to be done to strengthen public health response to pandemics in Europe says EPSU

(Brussels, 13 November 2020) On the 11th November, the European Commission published a proposal outlining the first steps towards a European Health Union. The proposals come at a crucial time, and coincide with the European Parliament and European Council’s agreement to increase the EU4Health budget to EUR 5.1 bn. But much more is required to tackle the long term weaknesses driven by cuts and constraints that eroded the response capacity of Europe’s healthcare systems.

Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary commented “We consider the increase in funding a success for the health workers that mobilised across Europe to demand more investment in health systems, but it falls short of what is needed. Health workers deliver the necessary medical care to deal with all health threats. Little has been done to ensure a coordinated effort to reduce staff shortages, improve health and safety and the working conditions of healthcare staff. ”

As part of its EU Health Union, the European Commission has proposed to given the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) a strengthened mandate. This is a positive step, but it is vital that these agencies are fully transparent and accountable in their work. For them to be successful, trade unions representing workers in health and care systems need to be involved in their governance. Unions play an indispensable role in defending the interests and ensuring the health and safety of those on the ground during cross border health crises, when the pressure on health systems and health workers is high.

The Commission’s proposal to strengthen the resilience of EU healthcare through an EU audit is yet to be clarified: EPSU has demanded stress tests in which the conditions of health and care workers are an essential element. This is necessary to ensure the resilience of healthcare systems, which cannot function without the workers.

For the creation of an impactful and effective European Health Union which can respond to pandemics, cooperation and coordination of healthcare systems at European level is necessary. Involvement of social partners throughout the process will be key to building long lasting programmes and to ensuring Europe has the required healthcare workforce in the coming decades. The unions representing the health workforce need to be involved in developing the EU preparedness plans. EPSU will work with all concerned to realise a European Health Union that delivers the right to care for all.

EPSU is the European Federation of Public Service Unions. It is the largest federation of the ETUC and comprises 8 million public service workers from over 260 trade unions across Europe. EPSU organises workers in the energy, water and waste sectors, health and social services and local, regional and central government, in all European countries including the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood. In our sectors we organise workers in the public, the non-profit, mixed and private sector including in multinational companies. It is the recognised regional organisation of Public Services International (PSI). For more information please go to: www.epsu.org.