Healthcare in the Bulgarian Presidency Programme
Small gestures matter. I suppose it’s fair to say that not many people, including myself, expected the President of the European Council to give his opening speech during the ceremony for the Bulgarian Presidency in Sofia in fluent Bulgarian. This was not a small gesture and was highly appreciated amongst Bulgarians! I am sure I was not the only impressed viewer that tuned in for this historic moment for Bulgaria.
Looking ahead at the activities of the Bulgarian Presidency, this article focuses on the specific engagement of my country in the field of health, a field which perhaps understandably would not be the most important focus in the next 6 months. However, the following activities are crucial in paving the way for concrete actions by the current trio, and those following it. Here are 8 things not to miss in healthcare for the next 6 months.
Medicine Shortages, Parallel Export and Affordable Prices (1)
The most interesting and sometimes controversial health topic. The Presidency intends to “promote active debate.. in order to find solutions.. to the shortage of medicinal products for economic reasons, parallel exports…”. Promoting an active debate could mean a variety of things, including conferences, communication campaigns and high-level events, which, according to the Presidency’s calendar will take place in Q2 2018. It will all start on 26 February with a Round Table on “Protecting Health and Improving Health Indicators of EU citizens by Providing Access to Effective and Innovative Medicine Products and Health Technologies at Acceptable Costs. A few days later – 6 March – a Conference on Providing Access to Effective Medicinal Products will also take place. A second High Level meeting on Pharmaceutical Policy (the first being held in Valetta in 2017) is also being considered to take place in Q2 2018. It does not seem that the Presidency will propose concrete measures, but rather continue the direction of EU dialogue in these areas. Small steps, but nevertheless steps forward.
Skeptics of my claim that health is a point ‘not to be missed’ will highlight that this is the last point listed in the Bulgarian health priorities. Nonetheless, it should not be interpreted as the least important by any means. It seems the reason behind this placement is the latest developments in Bulgaria in December which included a ground-breaking change in the law for medicinal products. The adopted change will limit, whenever necessary (e.g. in case of shortage), the parallel export of medicinal products, listed in the Bulgarian List of Medicinal Products Reimbursed by the Health Care System.
Healthcare negotiations (2)
As part of priorities in the healthcare sector, the Bulgarian Presidency has announced within their programme the aim to conclude “the negotiations on the proposal for amendment of the Regulation…for the authorization and supervision of medicinal products for human and veterinary use and establishing a European Medicines Agency. The amendments made in the European Parliament looked to expand the remit of this Regulation and with the current complex climate on human and veterinary medicines, this will be a very complex file to resolve. Nonetheless, this shows good ambition to finalise the final elements of this Regulation.
Healthy diet for children (3)
As part of the Bulgarian programme, the Presidency will focus on proposing Council conclusions on healthy diet for children. An apple a day keeps the doctor away! This will be supported by an official conference on 6 February on the Issue of Health Nutrition for Children.
Other key events (4-8)
- 31 January – Commission will agree on a position on the EU coordinated HTA mechanism which will then be the subject of fierce discussion in the Council of the European Union (4)
- 23 April – Informal meeting of employment, social policy and health ministers on health (5)
- 23-24 April – External meeting of Health Attachés from the Working Party Public Health to the Council of the EU (6)
- 20-21 June – Meeting of the Directors of Medicines Agencies (7)
- 22 June – Meeting of employment, social policy and health ministers on health (8)
With these key elements, the Bulgarians hope to not omit the healthcare sector (a double negative is a famous Bulgarian idiosyncrasy), a field in which Bulgarian patients in particular are facing constant challenges and issues. However, with the Estonian Presidency doing a fantastic job in the area of digitalization, it seems that the slow passing of the baton, might be just what is needed to ensure the smooth continuation of health initiatives in the future.