Establishment of European Health Union Supported by Overwhelming Majority

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_LEZ1439More than two-thirds of those surveyed, 71 per cent, support the implementation of the European Health Union concept in Hungary, according to a joint study by Publicus Institute and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the S&D Group in the European Parliament, presented at an online conference on Wednesday.

According to the survey of 2,500 people in the first days of December, 39% of Hungarians have heard of the European Health Union’s program, which aims to eliminate inequalities and establish closer coordination between Member States’ public healthcare systems.

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the concept was first adopted by the Social Democratic Group of the European Parliament, based on the initiative of MSZP MEP István Ujhelyi, who consulted with Hungarian and international professional organisations during the development of the program. The S&D Group then expanded it and transformed it to its own health strategy.

The comprehensive program of the European Health Union was finally launched by the European Commission, who was the first to develop the concept through epidemiological and drug-strategy decisions. As it was also endorsed by the European Council in its recent conclusion, widespread implementation of the program seems certain in the coming years.

The joint study by S&D and Publicus also clarified that the implementation of the European Health Union is mainly supported by opposition voters; 56 per cent of the Fidesz electoral base would rather not have it. Those who feel the most positive about the concept are the voters of MSZP and Momentum (97-97 per cent), but it also has high support among DK (94 per cent) and Jobbik (93 per cent) voters, too. Most supporters were measured between the ages of 30 and 44 (84 per cent), the lowest rate of health union supporters, but still two-thirds majority, was found between the ages of 18 and 29 (66 per cent).

The research also showed that a large majority of voters agree that Hungary should spend much more on healthcare than at present (88 per cent); having minimum quality standards in health care that must be provided to citizens in all Member States also has overwhelming support (87 per cent). Fewer supporters, but still a majority (64 per cent) said that it should be the European Union that determines how much Member States should minimally spend on health services. The research also revealed that so far only 28 per cent of Hungarian voters are aware that the program of the European Health Union was initiated by a Hungarian MEP, István Ujhelyi: admittedly and understandably, this number exceeded 60 per cent among DK and MSZP voters.

The joint survey of Publicus and S&D Group also looked at the ways and extent to which Hungarians’ perceptions of the European Union would change if the Health Union program were implemented: a total of 61 per cent responded positively, 13 per cent negatively and 23 per cent were neutral. Another important lesson learned from the research is that while 49 per cent of respondents said it was not good for the EU to get involved in more and more things, 63 per cent agreed that it was better if in addition to domestic regulation in a given area (such as healthcare) EU regulation also existed.

Regarding the standard of public health care in Hungary, 61 per cent of the respondents were not satisfied; in fact, according to them, the conditions have worsened in recent years. Only Fidesz’s base denies this trend: 82 per cent of pro-government voters are satisfied with the conditions experienced in health care; in fact, they believe that the standard of care has improved in recent years. The research also revealed that a significant majority of voters (73 per cent) believe that more and more people should pay for private care because they do not receive the necessary care in state-owned medical facilities, while 80 per cent of voters clearly believe that the coronavirus epidemic has shown the weak points of the healthcare system.

At the conference presenting the findings of the study, MSZP MEP István Ujhelyi mentioned, among other things, that the overwhelming support of the European Health Union made all the work and efforts he had made in this regard in the recent period worthwhile. “When I put the concept’s first discussion paper on the table earlier last year, very few believed it could come true. Now, however, we are talking about the steps and areas in which the European Commission is beginning to develop this comprehensive concept.

“The right to health is a fundamental human right, so it is unacceptable for there to be significant discrepancies between the healthcare systems of EU Member States. The results of the current research give new impetus to the continuation of the work, I trust that the Hungarian government will also recognise that the European Health Union should not be rejected, but supported and further developed, as this is clearly the interest of all Hungarians,” said István Ujhelyi.

At the conference, head of Publicus Institute András Pulai emphasized, among other things, that there was a serious divide in the assessment of the current situation in Hungarian healthcare based on party preference: pro-government and opposition voters had radically opposing views. According to Pulai, the opinion of “uncertain” voters without party preference may be the most dominant in assessing reality, the vast majority of whom agree with the opposition’s perception of reality, that is, they describe the situation of Hungarian healthcare as bad and deteriorating.

When presenting the comprehensive research, the head of Publicus Institute also pointed out that difficulties in accessing public healthcare are mainly experienced by the less educated and those with low salaries; i.e. the most vulnerable have the least access to adequate care.

At the online event, Head of the traumatology department of Orosháza Hospital Dr. Zoltán Szelényi spoke about the fact that Hungarian healthcare was unfortunately among the worst in the EU, citing the low number of years spent in health as an example, in which Hungary also performed poorly. Szelényi emphasized that the improvement of the health condition of the population also brings about an increase in GDP, that is, investing in healthcare also has a positive effect on the economy. The head physician added that the establishment of the European Health Union would certainly help to improve health systems in the EU, thus, it would be worth to extend its implementation to areas such as prevention.

“The EU is a community of values and not just a community of interests, therefore the European Health Union is indeed an important and forward-looking, value-based initiative,” said President of the Hungarian Medical Chamber Gyula Kincses, at the online event. He stressed that the coronavirus epidemic had given a kind of boost to the pioneering initiative of István Ujhelyi, which is why its feasibility had accelerated. In connection to this, Kincses noted that, as part of the program, it would be beneficial to establish coordinated EU action in harmonising the reporting of the epidemic, as this, in his opinion, could help to protect more effectively.

According to Gyula Kincses, full harmonisation and standardisation of health systems can only be the result of a long and cautious process, however, the creation of service and quality minimums in the European Health Union concept, for example by creating a knowledge base of successful protocols, could be a serious step forward.

Details of the joint research of S&D and Publicus Institute are available at the following link: https://publicus.hu/blog/a-tobbseg-tamogatja-az-europai-egeszsegugyi-unio-letrehozasat/

Budapest / Brussels – 30.12.2020.