CESI Trade Council on ‘Health’ shapes its European health agenda: privatisation and digitalisation are key priorities

Since the peak of the global financial crisis in 2008, all European Union Member States had to address the issues of shrinking budgets for healthcare and increasing needs of the care sector. The CESI trade council ‘Health’ brought together representatives of practitioners in the health sector from six countries to discuss the issues of shortages of medical staff, working time conditions, privatisation, digitalisation and the danger of brain drain in the health sector.

CESI Trade Council on ‘Health’ shapes its European health agenda: privatisation and digitalisation are key priorities

While the discussions among the participants revealed clear differences as of how these issues are addressed in certain Member States, it was unanimously agreed that solid long-term European health policies need to be developed together with practitioners via social dialogue, while addressing ethical concerns and putting forward solutions that address the creation of public good.

In her opening statement, the re-elected President of the trade council, Ms Esther Reyes Diez, emphasised the need to particularly address the consequences of Brexit, the Working Time Directive, privatisation and digitalisation as extremely important issues that affect the quality of healthcare, the quality of work and the rights of healthcare workers throughout Europe. The newly elected Vice-Presidents added: ‘Our challenge is to save people’s lives or to improve the quality of their lives. In order to do that we should take care of the people that take care of us, in this case nurses and doctors.’

Sasa Jenko, Public Health representative from the European Commission (DG Research & Innovation), presented the state of public health research in the European Union and what are the main challenges considering demographic change, the environmental challenge, and healthcare spending. The following discussions centred on the possibilities and pitfalls of digitalisation in the health sector, particularly as regards patient-doctor relationship and whether technological progress will occur at the expense of health care workers. The impacts of digitalisation in the healthcare sector were presented in the context of the European consultation on access to electronic patient records. Mr Donnorso Raffaelle, Vice President of the trade council and a doctor himself, acknowledged the added-value of using technology and robots in the health care “as long as there is an ethical oversight put in place”. Thomas Bignal from the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) addressed the issue of privatisation: “Privatisation is not bad per se. However, it matters how it is done and for which reasons. The creation of public good should remain the priority.” He expressed worries that the Commission is favouring privatisation as it pushes payment-by-results programmes and social impact bonds which may be more advantageous to for-profit companies. However, the newly created Federation of European Social Employers aims to protect and promote quality and affordable services, as well as promoting social dialogue for social service employers and employees.

Last but not least, the meeting concluded with the presentation of Mr. Addarii from the PlusValue consultancy on the use of European Investment Funds for building a new public hospital in Treviso, Italy. The project brought together local community actors in addition to public and private sector actors. The project was deemed a success and shows that with a multi-stakeholder approach to private investment in the health sector it is possible to generate profit in an ethical way while at the same time ensuring a positive social impact.

CESI members active in the health sector also discussed intensively about the impact of technology and digitalisation in their professional life and in the life of their patients. As such, they raised a number of concerns about the need for training in new technologies, data protection, privacy and ethical issues. The trade council adopted a position paper on the topic and expressed their recommendations for policy makers.

In the margins of the event, bilateral discussions took also place with the members of the ‘Sindikata doktora medicine Crne Gore’ trade union of doctors from Montenegro about their concerns on the national application of right to strike and of representation through social dialogue.

Picture: CESI Trade Council ‘Health’ © CESI 2017