Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fifteenth Report


HEALTHCARE FOR THE ELDERLY


(23041)

15198/01

COM(01) 723


Commission Communication: "The future of healthcare and care for the elderly: guaranteeing accessibility, quality and financial viability".

Legal base:
Document originated:5 December 2001
Forwarded to the Council:6 December 2001
Deposited in Parliament:3 January 2002
Department:Health
Basis of consideration:EM of 21 January 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
To be discussed in Council:March 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


Background

  12.1  Although the delivery of healthcare services is a matter for Member States, the Community has been increasingly involved in more general health aspects, and the Gothenburg European Council in June 2001 called on the Council to prepare for its meeting in Barcelona this March a progress report on guidelines in the field of health and care for the elderly.

The current document

  12.2  This Communication has been produced in response to that call, and identifies a number of common issues which the Commission says will affect the future provision of healthcare within Member States, and which, taken together, it believes will have consequences for the organisation and provision of healthcare systems. These are the growing number of elderly people with their distinctive health needs, the advancement of technology leading to new treatments and medicines, and the continuing rise in patients' expectations against a background of increased health education. The Commission concludes that national care systems, while different in design, delivery and funding, are confronted with similar core challenges, such as those identified above, and it goes on to propose three common objectives, namely:

  • achieving universal access to healthcare and care for the elderly, including those in disadvantaged groups;

  • maintaining (and improving) high-quality healthcare and public health objectives, whilst striking a balance between this aim and the costs of medication and treatment;

  • sustaining the financial viability of care systems in the long run whilst maintaining overall quality and effectiveness.

The Commission also identifies the importance of the involvement and cooperation of all the key players in these fields as an essential prerequisite to attaining these objectives.

The Government's view

  12.3  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 21 January 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Yvette Cooper) says that the Government welcomes the Communication as a good basis for discussion on the future challenges for Member States' healthcare systems as a result of demographic ageing. It agrees that all care systems within the Community are faced with similar core challenges, although to varying degrees, and believes that the Commission's suggestions for three common objectives are a sound basis for future discussion and further work.

  12.4  However, the Minister adds that the UK also welcomes the acknowledgement in the Communication that the diversity of funding and organisational arrangements is one of the main characteristics of healthcare systems in the Community, and its reaffirmation of the principle that "the organisation of health care systems, their funding and planning as a function of the needs of the population are a matter for Member States". She says that the Government's goal will be to ensure that this crucial issue will receive the necessary detailed consideration, and that solutions should not be rushed. In particular, she stresses that any harmonisation of care systems would not be an appropriate option; that it will be necessary to avoid duplication with other international activity in this field, as for example within the World Health Organisation; and that it will be important to encourage the active participation in this exercise of the candidate countries.

Conclusion

  12.5  With a subject such as this, any document produced by the Commission is bound to run the risk either of being over-prescriptive (and hence of straying on to matters which are more properly the preserve of Member States) or of relying on broad statements of the obvious (which, on the whole, is the main charge we would level against this Communication). Having said that, it touches on a subject of wide, and growing, interest. For that reason, we think it right, in clearing it, to draw it to the attention of the House.


 
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Prepared 11 February 2002