41% of European Union opinion leaders believe that, in the long term, member states may share a common healthcare system and they support such a development, a survey conducted by advocacy group Health First Europe has found.

HFE describes this finding as “surprising.” It “demonstrates a substantial shift in attitude over recent years towards considering health from a European perspective and tackling current challenges on a cross-border basis,” says the group, adding that, only 10 years ago, such an idea would have been “unthinkable.”

For the study, HFE asked 77 respondents - including Members of the European Parliament, Commission officials, EU member state health attaches and health industry representatives - what they felt were the “most pressing health-related issues faced by European society today.” Their responses revealed that:

– 65% support the coordination by the EU of market approval of all health technologies through a regulatory agency, like the US Food and Drugs Administration;

– 89% advocate investment in medical technology innovation to improve health care efficiency and limit health care deficits;

– 86% believe that the EU should be competent for the coordination of technical resources (such as patient records), technological advances, knowledge, best practice and standards; and

– 88% believe that public health authorities in EU member states should provide information on how to apply for health care cross-border.

The findings have been published ahead of a Commission White Paper, currently under preparation and expected to be adopted in June, which will outline a strategic approach to health care in Europe. This initiative says that, despite a number of developments in recent years, the EU has never had “an overarching strategy, setting out a coherent approach to health policy” and it identifies three central themes for such a strategy:

– key issues – which points to the continuing “huge gaps” in health status and access to health care across the EU;

– health in all policies – which recommends further integration of health concerns in all policies at EU level, along the lines of “partnerships which have been developed in the field of pharmaceuticals, taking into account the often common interests of patients and industry;” and

– global health issues – the EU is increasingly participating in global health governance but it is still not properly recognised or sufficiently involved in shaping the international health agenda, says the Commission.

However, global issues impact directly on the EU, and key concerns include managing the threats related to communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and pandemic flu, as well as issues around trade with countries outside the EU, it adds.