The Health Council met in Luxembourg on 19 June 2015 as part of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council meetings. I represented the UK.
Member states agreed to a partial general approach on regulations concerning medical devices and in vitro medical devices. The compromise brokered by the Latvian presidency represents significant progress on this issue—after almost three years of negotiations—and paves the way for trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament and Commission once remaining work on the recitals (and certain technical aspects of the texts) is completed. Overall it was a very positive outcome for the UK, enhancing patient safety but ensuring pre-market scrutiny remains light-touch and clinically led, and that NHS in-house tests are exempted from most of the requirements of the regulations.
Slovenia requested that the Commission produces a new alcohol strategy, given the growing problems caused by alcohol abuse and the need for EU-level action to support member states’ own efforts to tackle it. The UK joined many other countries which spoke in favour of this proposition, highlighting the sharp rise in alcohol-related deaths and the strain being put on vital public services. In response, the Commission—Health Commissioner Andriukaitis—committed to considering the issue further.
Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Malta introduced a paper on the health aspects of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, highlighting the strain being put on their health systems. The Commission noted that 60 million euros had recently been allocated in emergency funding to assist them, but reiterated his call to member states to provide bilateral assistance through the EU’s civil protection mechanism. The UK acknowledged the health dimension of the crisis, and saluted the efforts of hard-pressed health professionals in front-line Mediterranean countries. Further, the UK emphasised the contribution of our armed forces in saving lives at sea, but also noted that the most effective solution remains addressing the root cause of the problem, and highlighted the work of DFID promoting stability and prosperity in source countries.
Spain introduced an addition to the agenda concerning the recent discovery of its first case of Diphtheria in 28 years. The main issue is one of access to Diphtheria anti-toxin (DAT), which is now patchy across Europe. Speakers called on member states to work together to ensure that all have access to this treatment.
Luxembourg set out its priorities for its upcoming EU presidency, which begins on 1 July. These include innovation and personalised medicine, dementia, and cross-border healthcare. As mentioned above, Luxembourg will oversee the finalisation of the Council position on medical devices, and further work will also be undertaken on alcohol and lessons learnt from Ebola.