As health is one of the issues which touches the lives of all European citizens, understanding the benefit of EU actions on health is essential when creating more health-related policies. The study “The benefit of EU action in health policy: The record to date” by the European Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS) provides an overview of what the European added value has achieved so far[1] in the health policy area, focusing on:

  1. the EU health programme,
  2. cross border health care,
  3. pharmaceuticals regulations,
  4. medical devices,
  5. prevention,
  6. vaccination.

As a result of this study, stakeholders have identified a European added value in addressing common challenges such as migration, health inequalities, patient safety, an ageing population, high quality health care and tackling health threats.

One innovative approach the study takes is to use the following, concrete criteria to evaluate the EU added value with concrete examples (wherever applicable):

  • Economies of scale
  • Free movement of persons
  • Cross Border Threats
  • Promotion of Best Practices
  • Networking
  • Benchmarking for decision-making
  • Unlocking the potential of innovation
  • Implementing EU legislation

1. Benefits of the EU Health Programme: Examples of EU action impacting citizens’ daily life

The Best Practices (BP) Portal[2] set out by DG SANTE help identify the best practices in relation to health programmes, NCDs prevention and premature mortality rates due to NCDs. As a result, stakeholders are urged to submit their practices to the BP portal.  If they are positively assessed, they receive a certificate of approval and their practice is published in the portal.

The Health Promotion and Disease Prevention knowledge gateway was created by the Joint Research Centre and DG SANTE to help stakeholders understand important health topics.

The ‘Economics of Prevention’ action aimed to support health officials in understanding and addressing the costs of NCDs. The study not only looked at the labour market costs and healthcare but also the potential positive economic benefits such as higher revenues from alcohol taxes.

2. Cross-border health care

Cross-border health care is the movement of patients within the EU and covers the costs of delivering healthcare, prescriptions and medical devices. This study reviews the methods and practices of EU cross-border health: for example, the increased mobility of healthcare professionals due to EU freedom of labour and movement creates a stronger medical network and encourages the exchange of better medical knowledge.

One EU measure in practice is the use of E-prescriptions. Since 21 January 2019, patients in Finland and Estonia, can be issued with an E-prescription from their home doctor, which can then be used overseas in a pharmacy in another EU country.

3. Pharmaceutical regulation

All pharmaceuticals need to be authorised before sale and this is mainly carried out by each EU national government. However, the EU still plays a role in authorisation as they have a duty to protect citizens health.

PRIME (PRIority MEdicines) is an example of one such EU measure in practice. Launched in May 2016, this voluntary scheme aimed to improve research and development of pharmaceuticals. PRIME helped improve clinical trial designs, focusing on the most promising medicines with the most potential benefits, therefore improving the quality of such medicines with thorough research and development.

4. Medical Devices

There are roughly 500,000 types of medical devices in the EU[3] ranging from bandages to x-ray scanners. As a result of EU action, the study shows that discrepancies and issues in certain medical devices due to the rules of safety and performance not being followed properly were able to be identified.

The EU joint action Market Surveillance of Medical Devices (JAMS)[4], helps share ‘best practices, training, knowledge and resources linked to the operation and use of medical devices’. Launched in October 2016, the programme aims to reinforce the overall market surveillance between competent authorities.

5. Prevention

Prevention and health promotion help prevent disease by promoting research not only on their causes but health information and education which help to prevent its spread. The EU encourages EU national governments to create legislation and initiatives to improve health systems and tackle health challenges.

RARHA, the Joint Action on Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm carried out surveys, creating a pool of data to understand levels of drinking and drinking patterns.

6. Vaccination

Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent and tackle disease. The is study highlights some of EU members facing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. EU action has helped strengthen coordination between Member States in terms of sharing information and access to vaccines.

European Union joint action on vaccination[5] (EU JAV) aims to strengthen cooperation between European countries to fight vaccine-preventable diseases, bringing together the European Commission, national health ministries, international organisations, researchers and stakeholders from 20 countries.’



This extensive overview of the added value provided by EU action in the health policy area has covered a wide range of health issues. This short summary of the 44-page study presents some of the key aspects of EU action, and helps inform public health policy-makers, about the benefits of EU action on health, which have helped improve the lives of Europeans in many ways.


[1] The benefit of EU action in health policy: the record to date, European Parliament Research Service, March 2019

[2] Public Health, Best practice portal, European Commission, January 2019

[3] New EU rules on medical devices to enhance patient safety and modernise public health, press release, European Commission, 5 April 2017.

[4] Market surveillance of medical devices (JAMS), Competent Authorities for Medical Devices website, January 2019.

[5] European Joint Action on Vaccination [EU-JAV] [801495], European Commission, health programmes database, January 2019 and European Union joint action on vaccination, website, January 2019.