Given that the number of Europeans aged over 65 will double in the next 50 years, and the number of over 80 year olds will almost triple, it follows that keeping this age group in good health is a particular priority.
However, European healthcare systems are at a tipping point, driven by the increasing burden of providing world-class care at a time when the long-term effects of austerity measures are putting pressure on healthcare spending.
Keeping these challenges in mind, Heart Month is a good time to reflect on how breakthrough innovation in the area of healthcare can contribute to building a cohesive, prosperous and successful Europe.
I spoke recently at a Friends of Europe event to discuss the McKinsey Institute report, Europe 2030 – Towards a Renewed Social Contract. McKinsey proposed that Security, Prosperity and Sustainability should be three pillars of this renewed social contract. I argued that we need to add a fourth pillar of Health, built upon disruptive technological innovation and a commitment to positive ageing.
I believe that good health is at the cornerstone of a strong and prosperous Europe. It is also a reciprocal responsibility; we citizens should take personal responsibility for our own health and, in return, those running our healthcare systems should provide the best treatment for us when we are ill.
However, the impact of disruptive technology in improving healthcare system sustainability for the benefit of patients is not fully appreciated in Europe. This innovation can transform medical practice, with faster procedures and reduced lengths of hospital stay. It can lead, as a consequence, to more patients benefiting; and it can even potentially reduce long-term costs, both within the healthcare system and in social care for older people.
We need to rekindle our openness to healthcare innovation in Europe. Our health technology assessment and reimbursement systems should be reformed to encourage and reward disruptive innovation; from the moment of initial breakthrough to the achievement of a fully developed therapy.
Healthcare innovation is an important contributor to enabling active and healthy ageing, as it allows us to effectively treat reversible conditions that lead to functional decline. Minimally-invasive medical technology has, for instance, transformed the management of such structural heart diseases as heart valve disease. As a result people are returning to an independent, good quality of life more rapidly, reducing the burden on our healthcare systems and social care.
Senior people in Europe play an essential role in society caring, for example, for partners or grandchildren so that their own children can get back to work. In Britain, Age UK estimates that this type of care is worth £15bn to the country’s economy. Many retired people continue to volunteer, allowing communities to function properly. According to France Bénévolat, 36% of French people over 65 volunteer in an association.
These facts exemplify exactly why we need to embrace Health as a pillar of our future social contract for Europe. If we can leverage the latest MedTech innovations to keep older people active and healthy, they can make a positive contribution to our families, communities and economies. In this way, we can build a social contract based on intergenerational solidarity.