The European Health Forum Gastein

By Jenni Hislop

Right now is a very exciting time for Europe, with a new Parliament having been elected in May, and the process for a new Commission currently at the hearings stage. It also happens to be twenty years since the EU was given a specific health mandate, so it was a great time for me to have the privilege of being accepted to return to the European Health Forum in Bad Hofgastein, as an alumni “Young Gastein” scholar this year.

The expertly organised, funded scholarship programme enables young people from across Europe with a background in health (be it policy, research or practice) to attend this event in the Austrian mountains. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take part in the leading health policy conference of the European Union; with delegates discussing a varied range of health-related issues covering pretty much everything from ebola to e-health.

This year’s conference theme – “Electing Health: The Europe We Want!” moves the health debate forward from last year’s focus on austerity instigated by the financial crisis. Of course, it is clear many Member States’ health systems are still in the process of recovery; this was hard to ignore given that opening plenary keynote speech was delivered by former Greek PM Georgis Papandreou. He spoke of the interdependency of health systems and the need to collaborate to ensure the sustainability of our health systems.

Patient empowerment was never far from the agenda, especially as developments in m-health are starting to enable patients to become increasingly involved and empowered in self-managing their own care. This shows great promise in helping Europe tackle the growth in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) over recent decades, and the need to focus on reversing this growth through disease prevention was highlighted by the Commissioner-designate for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, in his closing plenary speech prioritising prevention, promotion and protection for health over the next five years.

As part of my scholarship, I undertook social media activities throughout the conference, and the results of this can be found at the European Health Forum Gastein linkedin group, or on twitter using hashtag #EHFG2014. Tweeting from within the sessions I attended throughout the day was very rewarding, but the real benefit of this conference is the number of opportunities there are to network with others from such a wide range of different backgrounds across Europe, all with the same goal of improving the health of the European population. Perhaps this is the very spirit of co-operation that will hopefully ensure the continuing sustainability of our interdependent health systems after all.