European Health Forum Gastein

European Health Forum Gastein

Bad Hofgastein, Austria

The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) 2016 took place this week, bringing together over 500 European health expert in the beautiful alpine village to discuss current public health challenges in the EU. The theme this year was “Demographics and Diversity in Europe – New Solutions for Health”. Key contributors included Commissioner Andriukaitis, WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman.

As he elaborated in an article for EU Monitr, EHFG President Helmut Brand said that “ageing populations and migration do not need to spell out disaster for European health systems. […] To use the words of a European Commission report from 2011, “Europe’s future depends to a great extent on its capacity to tap the strong potential of the two fastest growing segments in its population: older people and immigrants”.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the European Commission all presented their perspectives on ageing and migration. Of course, all main stakeholders in EU health policy were represented and hosted their own events. Amongst a very full programme all aspects of health policy were covered; below are a couple of short reports of interesting sessions.

New frontiers in Health Technology Assessments (HTA)

This workshop discussed recent advances, challenges and future research needs in the field of health technology assessment (HTA) from the perspective of researchers, HTA bodies, policy-makers, patients and industry. A point of particular interest was how HTA approaches may evolve in the context of personalised medicine and other developments in health systems. Speakers considered opportunities and challenges for evidence generation and value assessment along the life-cycle of technologies.

The EUNetHTA project was discussed at lengthThe rationale behind it was presented thoroughly by a panel who explained the need to decrease duplication on HTA and increase consistency between different national HTA and concluded that more collaboration was necessary.

The EU Commission announced that a Reflection Paper on synergies between regulatory and HTA issues was to be adopted November 2016 – its aim being to identify activities in which cooperation between regulatory and HTA bodies can contribute to facilitating efficient access to effective, safe innovative added value technologies while guaranteeing the sustainability and predictability for healthcare systems (with a focus on medicinal products).

An open public consultation is to be expected in October 2016 to determine the different policy options for strengthening EU cooperation on HTA.

On 21 October the Commission and EUnetHTA are holding a forum called “European collaboration on HTA – what’s next?
The event will be an opportunity for the European Commission to provide further information on the upcoming public consultation on the future of the EU cooperation on HTA and for all participants to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the current framework for cooperation on HTA, and reflect on possible future scenarios.
Answering comments from representatives of the Austrian and German governments, Commission did reiterate that they focussed on HTA but they do not want to tell countries on price and reimbursement.


Nick Fahy of University of Oxford gave a very interesting analysis of the causes of Brexit. According to Mr Fahy, the price of globalisation has been mainly borne by the skilled working classes. Employment used to give them a social status which they have now lost to outsourcing of jobs. As a social class, they have not seen the benefits of globalisation, rather they have witnessed the educated classes benefit from it for 30 years. Their rejection of the European Union is a result of the lack of solidarity they have experienced in the face of globalisation. Health is a prime example of solidarity and that’s why the NHS has been a centre point to the debates, with Brexit campaigners claiming that they would repatriate £350 million a week from Brussels. Mr Fahy suggested that it was important to ensure that open markets are combined by strong social protections and that the communities most at risk from globalisation need to get the best protection. Hence, the EU should invest heavily in health infrastructure in a way that reflects the importance of health and health care in our societies. Mr Fahy concluded that this is a moment of opportunity put some real social protection alongside globalisation and that healthcare must be central to this change.

Personalised prevention

An echo to Mr Fahy’s speech was made during a workshop on personalized prevention. According to social architect Mr Gaston Remmers, current levels of dissatisfaction with healthcare provision are similar to that of dissatisfaction with EU; Mr Remmers suggested that if we don’t move towards personalised medicine soon we risk a “HEXIT” from traditional healthcare delivery.

The current trend towards patient-centred healthcare and the increasing focus on personalised medicine are paving the way for a more personalised approach to prevention as well. Personalised prevention can be defined as the personalisation of risk assessment and interventions for the individual – at any age. This approach was the focus of a workshop, which address questions such as:

– How can lessons and knowledge from personalised medicine be used for making prevention efforts more targeted and effective?
– How can increased knowledge regarding genomics and risk groups be translated into effective prevention interventions?
– What is the role for the digital sector, Big Data and electronic applications?

Patients and their personal health data were at the centre of the discussions. Amongst concerns regarding the protection of personal health data, it was put to the audience that, whereas patients want to be in full ownership of their own data, they were also calling for this data to be used to benefit them – especially in the form. This data can help people decide on their lifestyle choices in order to prevent subsequent illnesses. Some patients are exasperated by the slow development of personalised technology, in a state of affairs akin to the #wearenotwaiting movement started by diabetes patients who took it upon themselves to develop data interoperability standards and formats to facilitate the the deployment of digital health solutions to their chronic conditions.

The EHFG runs until tonight (Friday 30 September. For more information, including presentations, visit


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