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MEPs back EU digital health moves but stress data privacy

BRUSSELS, 8 Nov (APM) - The European Parliament’s health committee this week gave its support to the European Commission’s plans for digital transformation of health, but insisted that patient interests, particularly over data privacy, should be given high priority in implementing changes.
The committee's draft resolution (APMHE 64981) won majority support in a vote on Wednesday, after its proponents had expressed their concerns that patients should be the focus, and that adequate measures would be necessary to guarantee them both data protection and data access.

New kids on the block

The committee session gave an opportunity for some of the new intake of MEPs to take the floor on a health issue - including a clutch of medical doctors.
One obvious new arrival to watch is Sara Cerdas, who spoke in favour of the resolution on behalf of the S&D socialist group, and who also stressed the need for training healthcare professionals and for the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
This 30-year-old medical doctor from Portugal, with a masters in public health, also turned up this week giving the closing remarks to the health workforce event organised by Health First Europe, an innovation-focused alliance of patients, health care professionals, academics and industry.
Bartosz Arłukowicz - a paediatrician and Poland’s health minister from 2011 to 2015 - was another backer of the resolution, on behalf of the majority EPP centre-right group.
He underlined the need for patient education - a theme he has developed in a written question he has put to the Commission on whether it plans to create information portals for patients, "given the deluge of information on health matters, unsupported by any kind of studies, which is widely available on the Internet".
Joanna Kopcińska, another doctor, but part of the far-right ECR group, and with a background in public health and as a member of the Polish parliament's health committee, underlined the need for quality of data.
She has already made an intervention in a short European Parliament debate on cancer in October.
Luisa Regimenti, an Italian doctor specialised in law, and who has held regional health responsibilities, also sponsored the resolution, on behalf of the nationalist ID group in the parliament.
She is only a substitute member of the health committee and did not show up for the debate.

Old hands

The resolution was also backed by Frédérique Ries, a long-serving Belgian MEP now with the liberal Renew group, who is well-known in the European health sector.
Her particular concerns were with the ethics of the digital transformation: she noted the risks in artificial intelligence making healthcare decisions without human intervention, and in data input that was not strictly neutral.
Ries' seniority in the committee - she has been an MEP since 2004 - allowed her to point out during the session that this was in fact the second time round for the discussion of the Commission's 2018 digital plans, since the 2019 elections interrupted the previous process.
Margrete Auken, the Danish Green, is equally well-known in health circles, and also a veteran MEP going back to 2004. She emphasised what she saw as the risks of "taking doctors away from patients just to save money".
She also highlighted the "widespread digital illiteracy in Europe" that reflected a social divide, and demanded an educational response.
Auken also wanted a much fuller implementation of EU data protection legislation "to prevent it remaining just hot air".
Kateřina Konečná, the Czech communist MEP, was another of the proponents of the resolution, on behalf of the far-left GUE/NGL group, but she did not speak in committee.
Konečná has been an MEP since 2013, and is only a substitute on the health committee. Many of her previous interventions have related to her concerns over endocrine disruptors.
A Commission spokesman intervened briefly at the end of discussion, noting the progress already being made with member states on the policy, and confirming that the Commission was "ready to work harder with them on emerging issues".

Cancer

Other MEPs to acquire prominence on health matters in the newly-elected Parliament include some of the MEPs against Cancer, an informal grouping that has seen a recent surge in membership.
The grouping announced that 135 of its members voted last week for its new chairs, and that two first-time MEPs, French oncologist Véronique Trillet-Lenoir of the Renew group (also a member of the health committee) and EPP Cypriot Loucas Fourlas, had been elected.

From health MEP to Commissioner

One MEP prominent in health matters is expected to move on imminently from the Parliament: Adina-Ioana Vălean, the Romanian MEP who chaired the health committee in the last Parliament, and is currently chairing the industry committee, has been designated as her countrys commissioner, with responsibility for transport.
She - and Thierry Breton, the French industrialist who has been designated to take on the industry portfolio in the Commission - will face their hearing before MEPs on 14 November.
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