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Training vital for new era of patient-centric health care

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big-data-healthcareBy European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan

“Health-care professionals cannot be expected to adapt to new ways of approaching patients and coping with new technology unless they are suitably trained”, a high-level conference on personalised medicine heard in Brussels this week. 
Delegates were told that it is vital to develop training for professionals whose disciplines are essential to the successful development of personalised medicine to promote the shared understanding and collaborative development of necessary tools.  “To this end, employers, professional organizations, certification entities, regulatory agencies, and others will have to be involved in effecting the necessary changes,” the conference heard.
Christine Chomienne, president of the European Hematology Association (EHA), was speaking at the third annual conference of the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) – a Brussels-based organization that brings together stakeholders from academia, through research, to industry, policy makers and patient groups.
Chomienne added: “Curricula should be transparent, and transferable between countries. This should be true for healthcare professionals, but also - if the necessary interdisciplinary approach is to be achieved - for other professions whose contributions and collaboration will be increasingly necessary as personalised medicine develops.” The conference was also addressed by Luxembourg’s Minister for Health, Latvia’s Secretary of State for Health, several cross-party Members of the European Parliament, and representatives from relevant European Commission DGs.
It was held under the auspices of Latvia’s rotating presidency of the EU and the Alliance told attendees it had been working closely with both that nation and Luxembourg.  The latter has a large health agenda for its own rotating presidency, which begins on the first of July, and will hold a high-level conference the 8th of that month, with the title ‘Making Access to Personalised Medicine a Reality for Patients’.
The conference called for the “need to create a European Translational Research Platform, or ETRP, to enable the efficient translation of research discoveries to innovative diagnostics, therapeutics, products and processes that will benefit European patients, industries and societies”. This ETRP should, among other goals, aim to link infrastructure in relevant domains including ‘omics, pathology, biorepositories/biobanks, Big Data, biomarkers, diagnostics, imaging, drug discovery and development while sharing the expertise across the translational research continuum.  The ultimate aim would be to effectively deliver translational solutions that will contribute to better health for Europe’s 500 million citizens across 28 Member States.
The conference also heard that many people present would have preferred that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had put more of a focus on health and personalised medicine when setting out his list of priorities for this term.   ”It is clear,” said EAPM co-chair Helmut Brand, “that with an aging population Europe needs to take urgent action in the area of health. Nobody says it will be easy but, while consensus is not always possible, we definitely need to have a coalition of the willing.
 ”The EU,” he added, “needs to provide a framework that can allow us to go beyond simply words and aspirations and dreams, to allow us to provide real outcomes in order that citizens, businesses, healthcare workers and patients do not get frustrated. “It is abundantly clear that integrating personalised medicine into healthcare systems faces myriad problems, and of course we want to solve them. But science will not stop while we struggle to get things absolutely right, diseases won’t disappear while we tarry and patients will not receive the best care available while we wait,” Brand added. Personalised medicine has the goal of giving the right treatment to the right patient at the right time, and has come markedly to the fore in recent times.
The issues surrounding this new way of treating patients are helping to set the agenda in this sphere.  This includes great leaps in genetics, ground-breaking research, the emergence of Big Data and the super-computers needed to process it, as well as the restructuring of clinical trial models, up-to-date legislation and a new willingness for all stakeholders to leave their professional silos and collaborate like never before.  EAPM’s aim is to improve patient care by accelerating the development, delivery and uptake of personalised medicine and diagnostics, through consensus, and to emphasise the need for a wider understanding of priorities and a more integrated approach.
During the conference, the Alliance announced that it will soon be embarking upon a Member State outreach programme, “to continue vital, one-on-one engagement with our colleagues in the Commission and in the Parliament, but also have a foothold in the wider Europe”.
Among other speakers at the two-day congress (2-3 June) were - Miriam Gargesi, EuropaBio Healthcare Director, Mark Lawler, the Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast, Wolfgang Ballensiefen, Coordinator at the German Aerospace Center, Núria Malats, from the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas, Daniel Schneider, of Genomic Health, Lester Russell, the senior director of Health & Life Sciences Innovation EMEA at Intel Corporation, and Jillian Odenkirk, a senior analyst from the OECD.
Also addressing the 160-strong audience were Ernst Hafen, of ETH Zurich, Nicola Bedlington, from the European Patient Forum, Angela Brand, the founding director and full professor of the Institute for Public Health Genomics at Maastricht University, and  EAPM co-chair and former European Commissioner for Health, David Byrne.
Meanwhile, at a speakers’ dinner on Tuesday (2 June), guests heard from Fernand Sauer who, while now a member of the French Academy of Pharmacy, retired from the European Commission in 2006 as an Honorary Director General and continues to advise European institutions and agencies on health matters, pharmaceutical policy and research.  Given his long and distinguished career, Sauer was introduced to warm applause by Brand as 'Europe’s Mister Health'.

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Employment

Only 5% of total applications for long-term skilled work visas submitted in first quarter came from EU citizens, data shows

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The figures released by the UK Home Office give an indication of how Britain’s new post-Brexit immigration system will affect numbers of EU citizens coming to the UK to work. Between January 1 and March 31 this year EU citizens made 1,075 applications for long-term skilled work visas, including the health and care visa, which was just 5% of the total 20,738 applications for these visas.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “It is still too early to say what impact the post-Brexit immigration system will have on the numbers and characteristics of people coming to live or work in the UK. So far, applications from EU citizens under the new system have been very low and represent just a few percent of total demand for UK visas. However, it may take some time for potential applicants or their employers to become familiar with the new system and its requirements.”

The data also shows that the number of migrant healthcare workers coming to work in the UK has risen to record levels. 11,171 certificates of sponsorship were used for health and social care workers during the first quarter of this year. Each certificate equates to a migrant worker. At the start of 2018, there were 3,370. Nearly 40 percent of all skilled work visa applications were for people in the health and social work sector. There are now more migrant healthcare visa holders in the UK than at any time since records began in 2010. Although the number of sponsor licences for healthcare visas dropped to 280 during the first lockdown last year, it has continued to rise since, a pattern which was unaffected by the third lockdown this winter.

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Conversely, the IT, education, finance, insurance, professional, scientific and technical sectors have all seen a drop in the number of migrants employed so far this year, despite rallying during the second half of 2020. The number of migrant IT workers is still significantly lower than pre-Covid levels. In the first quarter of 2020 there were 8,066 skilled work visas issued in the IT sector, there are currently 3,720. The number of migrant professionals and scientific and technical workers has also dipped slightly below pre-Covid levels.

Visa expert Yash Dubal, Director of A Y & J Solicitors said: “The data shows that the pandemic is still affecting the movement of people coming to the UK to work but does give an indication that demand for skilled work visas for workers outside the EU will continue to grow once travel has been normalised. There is particular interest in British IT jobs from workers in India now and we expect to see this pattern continue.”

Meanwhile the Home Office has published a commitment to enable the legitimate movement of people and goods to support economic prosperity, while tackling illegal migration. As part of its Outcome Delivery Plan for this year the department also pledges to ‘seize EU exit opportunities, through creating the world’s most effective border to increase UK prosperity and enhance security’, while acknowledging that income it collects from visa fees may decrease due to reduced demand.

The document reiterates the Government’s plan to attract the "brightest and best to the UK".

Dubal said: “While the figures relating to visas for IT workers and those in the scientific and technical sectors do not bear this commitment out, it is still early days for the new immigration system and the pandemic has had a profound effect on international travel. From our experience helping facilitate work visas for migrants there is a pent-up demand that will be realised over the coming 18 months.”

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Economy

NextGenerationEU: Four more national plans given thumbs up

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Economy and finance ministers today (26 July) welcomed the positive assessment of national recovery and resilience plans for Croatia, Cyprus, Lithuania and Slovenia. The Council will adopt its implementing decisions on the approval of these plans by written procedure.

In addition to the decision on 12 national plans adopted earlier in July, this takes the total number to 16. 

Slovenia’s Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj said: “The Recovery and Resilience Facility is the EU’s programme of large-scale financial support in response to the challenges the pandemic has posed to the European economy. The facility’s €672.5 billion will be used to support the reforms and investments outlined in the member states’ recovery and resilience plans.”

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Reforms and investments

The plans have to comply with the 2019 and 2020 country-specific recommendations and reflect the EU’s general objective of creating a greener, more digital and more competitive economy.

Croatia plans to implement to reach these goals include improving water and waste management, a shift to sustainable mobility and financing digital infrastructures in remote rural areas. 

Cyprus intends, among other things, to reform its electricity market and facilitate the deployment of renewable energy, as well as to enhance connectivity and e-government solutions.

Lithuania will use the funds to increase locally produced renewables, green public procurement measures and further developing of the rollout of very high capacity networks.

Slovenia plans to use a part of the allocated EU support to invest in sustainable transport, unlock the potential of renewable energy sources and further digitalise its public sector.

Poland and Hungary

Asked about delays to the programmes of Poland and Hungary, the EU’s Economy Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said that the Commission had proposed an extension for Hungary to the end of September. On Poland, he said that the Polish government had already requested an extension, but that that might need a further extension. 

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Economy

EU extends scope of general exemption for public aid for projects

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Today (23 July) the Commission adopted an extension of the scope of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER), which will allow EU countries to implement projects managed under the new financial framework (2021 - 2027), and measures that support the digital and green transition without prior notification.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said: “The Commission is streamlining the state aid rules applicable to national funding that fall under the scope of certain EU programmes. This will improve further the interplay between EU funding rules and EU state aid rules under the new financing period. We are also introducing more possibilities for member states to provide state aid to support the twin transition to a green and digital economy  without the need of a prior notification procedure.”

The Commission argues that this will not cause undue distortions to competition in the Single Market, while making it easier to get projects up and running.  

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The concerned national funds are those relating to: Financing and investment operations supported by the InvestEU Fund; research, development and innovation (RD&I) projects having received a “Seal of Excellence” under Horizon 2020 or Horizon Europe, as well as co-funded research and development projects or Teaming actions under Horizon 2020 or Horizon Europe; European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) projects, also known as Interreg.

Projects categories that are considered to help the green and digital transition are: Aid for energy efficiency projects in buildings; aid for recharging and refuelling infrastructure for low emission road vehicles; aid for fixed broadband networks, 4G and 5G mobile networks, certain trans-European digital connectivity infrastructure projects and certain vouchers.

In addition to the extension of the scope of the GBER adopted today, the Commission has already launched a new revision of the GBER aimed at streamlining state aid rules further in light of the Commission priorities in relation to the twin transition. Member states and stakeholders will be consulted in due course on the draft text of that new amendment.

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