Europe’s drugmakers have called on governments to use the financial crisis as a real opportunity to make healthcare systems “fit for the 21st century”, and not as “yet another excuse” for cutting pharmaceutical expenditure.

This was the message laid out by Arthur Higgins, chief executive of Bayer HealthCare and president of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, speaking at the group’s annual meeting in Seville. He said that “with contracting economies, rising unemployment and growing national debts, there is a real risk that resources devoted to both health and innovation will be negatively affected”.

Mr Higgins added that “The consequences of such short-term thinking to the health and wealth of European citizens will be felt long after the current economic recession is over”. He went on to propose a five-point framework “that would help create modern and sustainable healthcare systems in Europe”.

These include creating greater efficiency in financing and delivering healthcare, an improved regulatory and policy environment and a “more innovation-friendly market place”. Fourthly, Mr Higgins suggested that “we need a new holistic approach to disease prevention and control“ and finally empowered patients need to be better able to take responsibility for their own health and well-being.

EFPIA stated that in these “challenging times, Europe should rely on strong and sustainable businesses such as the research-based pharmaceutical companies to increase its competitiveness”. The association added that a healthy population “underpins a thriving economy and investing in health and a strong pharmaceutical sector can help Europe bounce back from the economic downturn”.

Mr Higgins concluded by saying that “what is needed is not short-term mindset but bold and creative thinking that recognises that health and the economy are closely linked”.