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Committed to protect our health from Roberto Bertollini, HFE Honorary President

Today 7 June 2018, I am pleased and honoured to be appointed new Honorary President of Health First Europe, one of the EU’s leading stakeholders aiming at improving access for patients to treatment and innovation.  

Public health, science and policy have always been my primary concerns. Holding degrees in medicine and paediatrics as well as a Master of public health, my entire career has been devoted to enhancing health and wellbeing for citizen worldwide as well as improve the link and dialogue between science and policy. I have been wholeheartedly committed to the improvement of public health in several areas, such as chronic diseases, maternal and child health and, more extensively, in the development and progress of the environment and health agenda in Europe and at the global level.  

Accepting the role of Health First Europe President confirms my commitment for population health by promoting equitable access to modern, innovative and reliable medical technology for all citizens. Developing a modern health care system coupled to evidence based policies for promoting health and preventing disease is a vital investment in the future of Europe. I strongly believe in the need to concretely achieve a truly patient-centred healthcare thus ensuring to every European citizen the benefits arising from the highest standard of quality of care.  

Together with HFE’s 24 important stakeholder members, we will work for safer and smarter healthcare in Europe. I realise the vital role HFE plays in bringing awareness to the challenges of modern EU healthcare. As President I aim to elevate HFE even further by tackling some of most pressing problems in health today.  

In this vein, I will focus my work on:   Prioritising the development of innovative and integrated model of organisation of care within the discussion on healthcare systems sustainability and efficiency.   Keeping safety for patient and health workforce under the limelight of the EU institutional debate to implement effective safety policies in the EU.  Encouraging key health stakeholders and policymakers make better plan and invest in early diagnosis and screening programmes as key enablers for saving lives while ensuring sustainability of our healthcare systems. 

Fully aware of the European Union limited competencies on health, I strongly believe that more can be done to move towards safer, more sustainable and more integrated healthcare systems. European Member States are currently facing enormous challenges such as an ageing population, an alarming increase of chronic illnesses and the growing antimicrobial resistance crisis. Therefore, the European Union needs to pave the way for structural reforms on health and social care to face these challenges; for larger and more focussed investments in prevention and health promotion; for cross border actions and cooperation to overcome fragmentation in health care and health disparities, and unlock the potentials of innovation including those linked to digital health.  

Innovation, in its broadest meaning, should penetrate and spread in any health and social reform. Greater research into the value of innovation in health, including innovation of health care models and social care, must be better supported at EU level. It is not sustainable nor viable to introduce innovative solutions in a system which does not have the tools and mechanisms to implement them. I strongly believe that the EU could benefit enormously by addressing more proactively health matters, thus showing its attention and concern for the needs of people in the Union. 

Innovative solutions for patients’ safety in all healthcare settings have a crucial role in this framework. About one in ten patients are harmed while receiving health care. According to a recent Report published by the OECD “many of the incidents that cause harm can be prevented”. The direct cost of unsafe care is about EUR 21 billion or 1.5 percent of health expenditure for EU countries. Investing in safer healthcare will prevent 260 000 fewer incidents of permanent disability, and 95 000 fewer deaths per year. These numbers represent an unacceptable waste of lives and resources. 

The traditional separation between social and health budget should be overcome in favour of a virtual triangle citizens – care – innovation, where all players jointly act to deliver well-being to each citizen and the whole society. The EU should not scale down its role of identifying and distributing good practices across Member States to meet the growing demand for care and simultaneously support innovation in the sector in the face of an ageing population and the alarming burden of chronic illnesses. Areas like advanced screening, the role of digital data and integrated care models are the future.  
Improving patients’ health literacy, patient access to high-quality information and involvement in patient safety strategies and methodologies of establishing patient safety standards and access to treatment is critical to implement truly patient-centred care in European health systems. 

I am delighted to continue the good work initiated by my predecessor Mr John Bowis. I will keep continuing to build upon our belief that “health equals wealth” with my commitment to promote a more sustainable, inclusive and innovative healthcare, to enhance a safety culture in health settings and achieve effective public health programmes and practices across Europe. 
 
ROBERTO BERTOLLINI 
 
 Biographical note on the author:  
From 2011 to 2016, I have been WHO Representative to the EU in Brussels and Chief Scientist of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. Before this assignment from 2007 to 2010, I have been coordinator of the Evidence and Policy for Environment and Health unit of the WHO Department of Public Health and Environment in Geneva with the special task to develop the WHO global policy and response to the health impacts of global climate change. Since 1991 and until 2007, I have worked in WHO Europe and played senior roles as Director of the Environment and Health programmes and subsequently of the technical division addressing NCDs, infectious diseases and health determinants. 
Since January 2017, I have been Advisor to the Minister of Public Health of Qatar, working to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the public health system in the country. In addition to this, I am a Member of the Scientific Committee on Health, Environment and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) of the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, providing scientific opinions to European Commission Services on health-related issues.