Finnegan's Take

Sitting listening to the EU’s enterprise commissioner holding forth at the European Parliament’s environmental committee on the subject of regulating medicines, I was prompted to wonder how the status of health policy could be so low.

Swine flu, counterfeit drugs, and our ageing population are supposed to be priorities but health is an afterthought.

The ENVI committee is responsible for public health, but also has its work cut out dealing with climate change. A well-placed MEP told me before the summer that moves were afoot to reshuffle the parliament in a way that would give health its own committee. That came to nothing.

At Commission level, it remains rather bizarre that medicines policy is controlled by the a directorate who’s homepage opens with the slogan We Mean Business.

Obviously that’s what DG Enterprise should be saying – but should they be in charge of such a major chunk of health policy? It seems particularly odd given that this is something controlled by health ministers in all but one (sorry Greece) of the 27 EU member states.

I had a similarly disconcerting experience when last week I sought out information on the Clinical Trials Directive. That particular law was drafted in 2001, long before I landed in Brussels, so I naively figured it might have been the work of DG Research. Or maybe DG Sanco (the health directorate).

Nope. DG Enterprise controls clinical research. It controls medical devices. It has a major role in nanotechnology and biotech.

It should be noted that health policy is a matter for member states, so Brussels cannot decide how much should be spent on cancer care or e-health or paying doctors.

But as work begins to set out the agenda of the next European Commission, surely now is a good time to suggest greater input on medicinal products and research by the health directorate.

Health should not play second fiddle to environment or trade policy and it should not be an extension of the business agenda.

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