Informal Meeting of Health Ministers

The Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly T.D. will host an Informal Meeting of European Health Ministers at Dublin Castle on the 4th and 5th March as part of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Welcoming his European counterparts to Dublin, Minister Reilly said “2013 is a landmark year for Ireland, marking the 40th anniversary of our accession to the then European Economic Community. Much has changed since then and European citizens face different challenges. I would like to use the opportunity the Informal Meeting presents to explore some of these challenges and look at what we, as Health Ministers, can do to improve the health and wellbeing of our citizens”.
As 700,000 EU citizens die each year of smoking related disease, a key interest on the agenda will be a report by the European Commission on the implementation of Council recommendations on Smoke Free Environments(2009/C296/02).  Ministers will discuss their experiences of the implementation of the recommendation and identify what further action can be taken to promote and advance smoke free environments.

Pointing to the progress Ireland has made in this regard, Minister Reilly stated that “Ireland was the first country to introduce legislation to ban smoking in public places.  Ireland has also introduced graphic warnings on tobacco products in February of this year and work is currently underway in my Department on developing legislation to protect children from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in cars”. Minister Reilly stated that he was looking forward to this discussion; “we cannot allow a situation where our citizens, our children in particular, are involuntarily exposed to tobacco smoke.  Smoking is optional – breathing is not”.

Minister Reilly will also be joined by Minister Frances FitzGerald, Ireland’s first Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, for a discussion on the issue of childhood obesity, a major public health challenge for Europe.  30% of children are overweight or obese in most EU Member States.  In Ireland, the recent Growing Up in Ireland survey found that 1 in 4 children as young as 3 years of age are overweight or obese.

Looking forward to the meeting Minister Reilly stated that it was an important issue “not only because of the impact it will have on our health systems and our economies through lost productivity; it’s important too for our children and their families, and the quality of their lives.”

Ministers will also examine the impact of the economic crisis on health systems and the extent to which they, and their Governments, can avoid the negative effects of the crisis on the health of their citizens.  They will also discuss potential options and opportunities for Member States to drive efficiency and achieve savings in health budgets in a way that minimises the impact on quality of, and access to, care.

Other issues on the agenda include best practice and information sharing in relation to services for children with complex developmental needs, in particular autism.  In addition, the European Commission will present a report on the implementation to date of Council Recommendations on Patient Safety including Health Care Associated Infections.  This will afford an opportunity for Ministers to discuss how they can ensure that patient safety remains a priority in health policies.

Acknowledging that it was a wide-ranging and challenging agenda, Minister Reilly emphasised the importance of Health Ministers working together in Europe, given the adverse impact that issues such as obesity and smoking can have on so many peoples’ lives.