According to the latest health index of the Health Consumer Powerhouse, Belgium is number one when it comes to accessibility to healthcare services. Maggie De Block, Belgium’s Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health, discusses the sector’s challenges and structural reforms.
How would you describe the Belgian healthcare sector?
Maggie De Block: In our healthcare, the patient is always central, which is why Belgium is among the European leaders in the healthcare sector. Our whole system is based on the principle of solidarity, and it must remain so; it is the strongest shoulders that bear the heaviest burden. In order to increase efficiency and overcome challenges such as an increased number of patients with chronic conditions and high prices of advanced treatment options, we carry out major structural reforms without losing focus on the patient.
What are some recent major developments?
Maggie De Block: In July 2015, Belgium signed the “Pact of the Future” with the pharmaceutical industry, aimed at ensuring permanent investments in new drugs and access to the latest treatments for our patients. With this pact, the drug expenses for the patients will decrease for at least €71.4 million in the period 2015-2018. In addition, patients on innovative and sometimes life-saving treatments can rely on repayment, such as immunotherapy treatments against lung cancer or Hodgkin’s lymphoma, drugs against hepatitis C or smart sensors for patients with diabetes. Belgium also signed an agreement with Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria for negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry regarding orphan drug prices. By working together, we will enlarge the potential market and reduce the prices. In addition, the four countries will also exchange information and collaborate in the area of innovation.
Which reforms are you currently working on and which investments are needed in the health sector?
Maggie De Block: Every citizen is entitled to the right care, at the right time and in the most appropriate place. We have embarked on a full process of reforms of mental healthcare for children and adolescents, adults and inmates. Another important reform refers to hospital landscape and hospital financing. This reform is needed to improve the quality of care for patients and to take the hospital sector out of the red numbers. Hospitals will work together in networks to offer patients the best possible quality of care and to respond to the changing needs. Investing in innovative treatments and developments in the field of personalized medicine is crucial for providing the best possible care to our patients. However, it is also necessary to have a balanced use of the available resources and make correct assessments. We must invest in new treatments without compromising the sustainability of the health system, but also adapt the existing systems and structures. That way we can maintain the highest quality, affordability and accessibility in the interest of patients.