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Written Statement - EU Summit on Chronic Diseases, Brussels

Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services

Following an invitation from the European Union Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, I spoke at the EU Summit on Chronic Diseases held in Brussels on 4 April. Recognising that Wales is among the leaders in tackling chronic diseases, he asked me, and Ministers from several other Member States, to speak about the pressure of treating chronic diseases on health and social services systems. The aim of the event was to explore ways of addressing chronic diseases more effectively and to develop recommendations for sustainable, innovative and future-oriented responses to chronic diseases.    

In my speech I emphasised that it is the quality, not simply the quantity, of healthcare that makes the difference and that the prudent approach we have adopted in Wales will provide not only more sustainable services but also better outcomes. The projected increase in people suffering from chronic diseases is alarming, but we should not talk ourselves into paralysis by the scale of the challenge and I highlighted our success in reducing emergency hospital admissions by people with chronic conditions month on month. I also took the opportunity to raise awareness of the ambitious legislative proposals for further improving and protecting health in Wales that I recently outlined in the Public Health White Paper.

European Ministers (from Greece, Italy, Portugal and Ireland), as well as speakers from international organisations including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), set out their approaches to tackling chronic diseases. Many common threads emerged, such as an increased focus on health outcomes, on prevention and early detection, and on self-management and reorientation towards primary care. The other major theme was the need for a cross-governmental approach to health and wellness.

I share the views expressed by many at the Summit that there is benefit in concerted EU action on chronic disease so that we can learn from one another, better co-ordinate our research efforts and seek to ensure that health is properly integrated into other policy areas, such as legislation on air pollution. I now look forward to seeing the recommendations on priorities for future action.

Attending the event also gave me the opportunity to set out our life sciences offer to Joseph Jimenez, the Chief Executive Officer of Novartis. His speech focused on the need to adopt an outcomes approach based on proven benefit to patients, which chimes with my view on prudent healthcare.

I was pleased to meet Tonio Borg, the EU's Health Commissioner, and we had a very useful discussion about the potential of e-health and the freedom of movement for people and services. I also congratulated him on successfully steering the Tobacco Directive through the legislative process, discussed issues such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and made him aware of the main proposals in the Public Health White Paper.

During my time at the Summit I met Yves Leterme, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, and I was pleased to hear that the organisation is keen to increase its interactions with devolved governments and promote our initiatives. We also discussed an upcoming report on geographical imbalances in doctor supply, which will have a regional dimension, and recent OECD work on child and adolescent health. Mr Leterme was particularly interested in our work on organ donation and e-cigarettes and I will be keeping the OECD updated as we progress.

I also met Dr Gauden Galea, the Director responsible for Non-Communicable Diseases and Life course in the WHO European Division. He expressed strong interest and support for the prudent healthcare agenda and in this context referred to an ongoing initiative in the WHO to identify a core set of affordable and effective interventions for all countries. I reminded him of the strong public health tradition in Wales and we discussed my concerns about e-cigarettes normalising smoking and undermining decades of progress on tobacco control.

My discussion with the Irish Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, focused on opioid substitution, tobacco and on alcohol pricing. He summarised the results of research that is currently being undertaken in Ireland on the most effective opiate substitute to provide a route out of addiction. We discussed a range of topics relating to tobacco and alcohol and we will have an opportunity to discuss the specific topic of minimum unit pricing for alcohol with our counterparts from the Scottish Government at the next meeting of the British-Irish Council.

Participation in this first EU Summit was an excellent opportunity to learn and share knowledge about best practice approaches and the latest evidence. It confirmed that much is being done to ensure that we continue to improve the way we prevent and manage chronic health diseases in Wales.

I will ensure that Members are kept informed of any future action following on from the Summit.