The informal meeting of European Union Health Ministers took place on 17 and 18 April in Brdo, Slovenia. I represented the UK. Items on the agenda were: reducing the burden of cancer; information on the conclusions of the third European conference on alcohol policies; implementation of the EU health strategy; and antimicrobial resistance.
On reducing the burden of cancer, the European Commission noted that a report on the implementation of the 2003 Council recommendation on cancer screening was nearly finalised: this would say that there was still some way to go before the recommendation was fully implemented. Potential areas for future action on cancer included: work on screening; collecting comparable health information and data on the cancer burden; and sharing best practice. A 2009 Commission action plan on cancer would cover these. I emphasised the value of high quality EU level data and combining resources on cancer research. Belgium and Denmark agreed with the UK that greater co-operation on research would add real value at EU level.
On alcohol, the presidency noted that a recent conference, “Building Capacity for Action” had taken place in Barcelona on 2 to 4 April. Sweden then emphasised that alcohol-related harm and ill health would be a key theme of their presidency (during the second half of 2009) and that they would place a special emphasis on examining commercial communications and advertising.
On the implementation mechanism for the EU health strategy, the presidency introduced their proposal for revising the mandate of the senior level working party on health. The presidency proposal received wide-ranging support from member states, including France, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Denmark and Malta. I also emphasised that the “health in all policies” approach proposed in the strategy and the focus on health inequalities meant that the Council needed to take an interest in the work of other Commission Directorate-Generals, as well as DG SANCO.
On antimicrobial resistance, the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) gave a presentation on the growing problem and burden of this health issue. The ECDC also highlighted the increasing problem of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, concluding that better implementation of the 2001 Council recommendation was needed. France indicated that they would carry on work on antimicrobial resistance during its presidency.