21st June 2017 – Economist Event

Global Access to Healthcare – Building Sustainable Health Systems
By Dr. Rohini Vijaygopal – The Mindfulness Foundation

On Wednesday, 21 June 2017, an Economist event was held at St. James Square convened by the Economist Events Group on Global Access to Healthcare, chaired by Vivek Muthu, the Chief Health Adviser at The Economist Intelligence Unit.

 

This research programme, http://accesstohealthcare.eiu.com/ created by The Economist Intelligence Unit, examines the challenges and opportunities countries face as they attempt to improve access to high-quality healthcare that meets the needs of their populations. It consists of the Global Access to Healthcare Index, covering 60 countries with a diversity of income levels; a global report; an animated infographic introducing the key findings from the index; six infographics on the main domains of the index; and five regional summary papers. 

 

Vivek Muthu opened the event by launching the Global access to healthcare index. This index identifies new opportunities, describes global disparities on healthcare provision and considers how to make healthcare a priority in an increasingly uncertain time that we are living in.

 

Martin Koehring, the managing editor of this index explained that the index measures parameters across 60 countries in terms of their healthcare performance. He also pointed out that one area where expenditure remains particularly low is ‘mental health’ with 42% of countries receiving the lowest score in this category with little or no spending. Overall UK performance can be accessed by visiting http://accesstohealthcare.eiu.com . There are two aspects of access to healthcare; functional (deals with issues of accessibility, for example, access to medicines, equity of access etc) and operational (deals with healthcare systems, for example, political will, infrastructure, efficiency, innovation etc). Martin inferred that higher income doesn’t always necessarily equate to better healthcare. Overall, a strong political will backed up by adequate financial investment would build sustainable and sound healthcare access. Furthermore, he emphasised a strong need for availability of reliable data on healthcare challenges and outcomes (for example via health technology assessments).

 

Anja Langenbucher from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spoke about improving equitable healthcare services to be extended to every country in the world. The key challenges and opportunities were discussed by the panel. Political will, good structure, access to data and proper analyses to inform policies, alternative sources of funding, incentives to drive efficiency and reforms, and research as tool to frame the future strategies were amongst the several topics that were touched upon. When asked about the role of mindfulness meditation within the integrated healthcare system for better patient outcomes as well as a preventive tool for maintaining mental health, Professor Prabhat Jha from the University of Toronto emphasised that community based endeavours have proved successful in the past. Johan Hjertqvist, president and owner of Health Consumer Powerhouse, added the need for few common indicators to be established. He said that, going forward, statistics is the key for both prevention as well as management of mental health.

 

Ricardo Baptista, an MP and Head of Public Health in Portugal spoke about how healthcare could be made a political priority. He believed that political participation and commitment will back the political will. In terms of being politically attractive and influencing policy change, the agenda needs to be evidence based, data driven, decision oriented and should adapt to the cultural context of the country. The panel unanimously agreed that the rhetoric must change from being just therapeutic to becoming preventive in nature. Funding mechanisms should be directed more towards preventive care by putting patient’s perspective at the heart of this conversation. The panel concurred on the importance of playing the political card by creating a political environment in such a way that the political parties have no option but to prioritise such a preventive approach to healthcare.

 

David Pencheon, Head of NHS/PHE sustainability unit, touched upon the financial, environmental and social sustainability pillars. He pointed out that we should not monetise illness but instead monetise health outcome. NHS should be a health creator and not a repair shop. There is need for a fundamental mind shift - moving from an illness system to a health system. Elke Jakubowski from WHO pointed out that it is time to get serious about preventive and compassionate care. Integrated and person-centred care would make NHS more fit for purpose thus adapting it to the current needs. Mehmood Khan, Vice-chairman of PepsiCo added that industries should play an increasing role with respect to the social determinants of health, for example, food, diet etc.

 

Margaret Kruk, Associate Professor from Harvard School of Public Health, rightly summed up that access is just the start. It is vital to reflect on the index and seriously think about political will, coverage, quality of healthcare and resilience. Listening to people, considering user experience, and improving confidence in the system, all, would set the foundation for shared respect and deliver more value for people out of the health system.

 

The event lasted for about four and half hours and covered various areas for bettering the global access to healthcare. Inspite of some differing needs in the 60 countries covered by the index, there was indeed a common ground in terms of a greater need for political will, increased focus on preventive care, a requirement for incorporating an integrated person- centred provision within the health system and more importantly, using data as the key driver for bringing about policy changes.