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Document 52006XG0622(01)

Council Conclusions on Common values and principles in European Union Health Systems

OJ C 146, 22.6.2006, p. 1–3 (ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, NL, PL, PT, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 146/1

Council Conclusions on Common values and principles in European Union Health Systems

(2006/C 146/01)



NOTES that the European Commission in its amended proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on services in the internal market has decided to remove healthcare services from the scope of the Directive, thereby incorporating amendments proposed by the European Parliament.


NOTES that the European Commission has stated that it will develop a Community framework for safe, high quality and efficient health services, by reinforcing cooperation between Member States and providing clarity and certainty over the application of Community law to health services and healthcare.


RECOGNIZES that recent judgements in the European Court of Justice have highlighted the need to clarify the interaction between the EC Treaty provisions, particularly on the free movement of services and the health services provided by national health systems.


CONSIDERS that health systems are a central part of Europe's high levels of social protection and make a major contribution to social cohesion and social justice.


RECALLS the overarching values of universality, access to good quality care, equity and solidarity.


ENDORSES the attached Statement on common values and principles that underpin the health systems in the Member States of the European Union (Annex).


INVITES the European Commission to ensure that common values and principles contained in the Statement are respected when drafting specific proposals concerning health services.


INVITES the Institutions of the European Union to ensure that common values and principles contained in the Statement are respected in their work.


Statement on common values and principles

This is a statement by the 25 Health Ministers of the European Union, about the common values and principles that underpin Europe's health systems. We believe such a statement is important in providing clarity for our citizens, and timely, because of the recent vote of the Parliament and the revised proposal of the Commission to remove healthcare from the proposed Directive on Services in the Internal Market. We strongly believe that developments in this area should result from political consensus, and not solely from case law.

We also believe that it will be important to safeguard the common values and principles outlined below as regards the application of competition rules on the systems that implement them.

This statement builds on discussions that have taken place in the Council and with the Commission as part of the Open Method of Coordination, and the High Level Process of Reflection on Patient Mobility and healthcare development in the EU. It also takes into account the legal instruments at European or international level which have an impact in the field of health.

This statement sets out the common values and principles that are shared across the European Union about how health systems respond to the needs of the populations and patients that they serve. It also explains that the practical ways in which these values and principles become a reality in the health systems of the EU vary significantly between Member States, and will continue to do so. In particular, decisions about the basket of healthcare to which citizens are entitled and the mechanisms used to finance and deliver that healthcare, such as the extent to which it is appropriate to rely on market mechanisms and competitive pressures to manage health systems must be taken in the national context.

Common Values and Principles

The health systems of the European Union are a central part of Europe's high levels of social protection, and contribute to social cohesion and social justice as well as to sustainable development.

The overarching values of universality, access to good quality care, equity, and solidarity have been widely accepted in the work of the different EU institutions. Together they constitute a set of values that are shared across Europe. Universality means that no-one is barred access to health care; solidarity is closely linked to the financial arrangement of our national health systems and the need to ensure accessibility to all; equity relates to equal access according to need, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, social status or ability to pay. EU health systems also aim to reduce the gap in health inequalities, which is a concern of EU Member States; closely linked to this is the work in the Member States' systems on the prevention of illness and disease by inter alia the promotion of healthy lifestyles

All health systems in the EU aim to make provision, which is patient-centred and responsive to individual need.

However, different Member States have different approaches to making a practical reality of these values: they have, for example, different approaches to questions such as whether individuals should pay a personal contribution towards the cost of elements of their health care, or whether there is a general contribution, and whether this is paid for from supplementary insurance. Member States have implemented different provisions to ensure equity: some have chosen to express it in terms of the rights of patients; others in terms of the obligations of healthcare providers. Enforcement is also carried out differently — in some Member States it is through the courts, in others through boards, ombudsmen etc.

It is an essential feature of all our systems that we aim to make them financially sustainable in a way which safeguards these values into the future.

To adopt an approach that shift focus towards preventive measures is an integral part of Member States strategy to reduce the economic burden on the national health care systems as prevention significantly contributes to cost reduction in healthcare and therefore to financial sustainability by avoiding disease and therefore follow up costs.

Beneath these overarching values, there is also a set of operating principles that are shared across the European Union, in the sense that all EU citizens would expect to find them, and structures to support them in a health system anywhere in the EU. These include:

—   Quality:

All EU health systems strive to provide good quality care. This is achieved in particular through the obligation to continuous training of healthcare staff based on clearly defined national standards and ensuring that staff have access to advice about best practice in quality, stimulating innovation and spreading good practice, developing systems to ensure good clinical governance, and through monitoring quality in the health system. An important part of this agenda also relates to the principle of safety.

—   Safety:

Patients can expect each EU health system to secure a systematic approach to ensuring patient safety, including the monitoring of risk factors and adequate, training for health professionals, and protection against misleading advertising of health products and treatments.

—   Care that is based on evidence and ethics:

Demographic challenges and new medical technologies can give rise to difficult questions (of ethics and affordability), which all EU Member States must answer. Ensuring that care systems are evidence-based is essential, both for providing high-quality treatment, and ensuring sustainability over the long term. All systems have to deal with the challenge of prioritising health care in a way that balances the needs of individual patients with the financial resources available to treat the whole population

—   Patient Involvement:

All EU health systems aim to be patient-centred. This means they aim to involve patients in their treatment, to be transparent with them, and to offer them choices where this is possible, e.g. a choice between different health care service providers. Each system aims to offer individuals information about their health status, and the right to be fully informed about the treatment being offered to them, and to consent to such treatment. All systems should also be publicly accountable and ensure good governance and transparency.

—   Redress:

Patients should have a right to redress if things go wrong. This includes having a transparent and fair complaints procedure, and clear information about liabilities and specific forms of redress determined by the health system in question (eg. compensation).

—   Privacy and confidentiality:

The right of all EU citizens to confidentiality of personal information is recognised in EU and national legislation.

As Health Ministers, we note increasing interest in the question of the role of market mechanisms (including competitive pressure) in the management of health systems. There are many policy developments in this area under way in the health systems of the European Union which are aimed at encouraging plurality and choice and making most efficient use of resources. We can learn from each other's policy developments in this area, but it is for individual member states to determine their own approach with specific interventions tailored to the health system concerned.

Whilst it is not appropriate to try to standardise health systems at an EU level, there is immense value in work at a European level on health care. Member States are committed to working together to share experiences and information about approaches and good practice, for example through the Commission's High Level Group on Health Services and Medical Care, or through the ongoing Open Method of Coordination on healthcare and long-term care, in order to achieve the shared goal of promoting more efficient and accessible high-quality healthcare in Europe. We believe there is particular value in any appropriate initiative on health services ensuring clarity for European citizens about their rights and entitlements when they move from one EU Member State to another and in enshrining these values and principles in a legal framework in order to ensure legal certainty.

In conclusion, our health systems are a fundamental part of Europe's social infrastructure. We do not under-estimate the challenges that lie ahead in reconciling individual needs with the available finances, as the population of Europe ages, as expectations rise, and as medicine advances. In discussing future strategies, our shared concern should be to protect the values and principles that underpin the health systems of the EU. As Health Ministers in the 25 Member States of the European Union, we invite the European Institutions to ensure that their work will protect these values as work develops to explore the implications of the European Union on health systems as well as the integration of health aspects in all policies.