OECD Health Ministerial Meeting 23/01/2024 Closing remarks Chair Frank Vandenbroucke
As Chair of the OECD Health Ministerial Meeting, I had the honor to provide the closing remarks. You can read these below.
Thank you, Ministers, Ambassadors, and distinguished delegates, for the fruitful conversations.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a tragedy and has raised concerns that health systems were not resilient enough. The diagnosis we discussed yesterday and today shows that we are still struggling with the aftermath of the pandemics. I will not repeat the many examples that demonstrate this.
Many of you shared learnings on the actions you have taken to reinforce resilience. Resilience is the ability of our health systems to prepare for, minimize the negative effects of, recover from, and adapt to shocks. Multiple interventions acknowledged that the work is not done. We don’t know what the future is made of and with what kind of shocks, at which rhythm, with which impact we will be confronted. Nevertheless, the accumulation, acceleration and simultaneousness of crisis seems to be the new normal.
Yesterday’s shock was a pandemic. But we must prepare for the next crisis, not the past ones – a mistake often made. We need to take a broad look. Already today, impact of climate change, cybersecurity, AMR, the damages coming from misinformation, disinformation and the loss of trust in public institutions are not looming threats anymore. They are realities we have to deal with. And, alas, the devastating impact of conflict and war on health systems, providers and patients.
When confronted with this level of uncertainty and risk, there cannot be any doubt on the opportunity and necessity of international collaboration. Multiple interventions during the plenary session stressed the urgent need for an agreement on the pandemic treaty under negotiation. As OECD ministers we must do our utmost best to conclude these negotiations successfully.
International collaboration is also to be found in regional collaboration – the importance of the EU has been mentioned by multiple European colleagues – and bilateral collaboration. In this context, ‘leaving no one behind’ is about exchanging knowledge, capacity and resources, when we are confronted with critical situations.
The discussion in the plenary and break-out sessions were of very high quality and a high level of commitment. I just want to mention a few conclusions that caught my particular attention as Chair of this Ministerial Meeting. These are by no means exhaustive, so this doesn’t mean at all that the other points made were less important.
First, the link between data, scientific methods and evidence, transparency and trust. It seems evident, but strengthen these components and the link between them, is crucial if we want to transform and improve our health systems. Most of us are confronted with situations where policies fail because they were insufficiently based on sound evidence. Most of us have equally be confronted with well-thought-through policies that fail because of a lack of support and adhesion by health professionals or citizens. And most of us are worried about impacts of misinformation and disinformation with regard to health topics. The OECD has already worked on these topics, as Stefano mentioned before, but it is clear that we need to step up our understanding of the issues and possible solutions. The OECD is very well-placed to work on this.
Secondly, equity should be top of mind when developing health policies and reforming health systems. We’ve heard some good examples this morning on policies that try to target vulnerable or discriminated groups in our societies. And more importantly, some of the interventions stressed the importance to include these groups directly in the problem analysis and policy design.
Equity also refers to the reality that health systems are part of social protection and social security systems in our societies. Health systems can be a contributor to social cohesion and progress in our societies, when well designed, person-oriented and effective. But at the same time social protection is at also an essential contributor to health (both physical and mental).
Thirdly, investment and reform are two sides of the same coin for health ministers. We need more investment, as has been made clear by the work of OECD. But we need to target these investments. And, as one colleague said: we need more money for health, but we also need more health for our money. More value-based healthcare and tackling waste are an important part of the solution.
Reform is also about courage. Courage to dare to make the right problem analysis. Courage to put into question obsolete systems, rules, financing mechanisms. We don’t want change for the sake of change, but it’s true that today’s society and patients have other needs and expectations. A beautiful example that many of you gave today was on the health workforce: part of the lack of workforce problems are linked to rules that demarcate in a too excessive and rigid way who can do what. By limiting scope of practice and the dynamic development of competencies. A kind of flexibility that is enriching and valorising for everybody. As one colleague put it very well this morning: we have to make sure that health professionals work at the top of their licence and competencies. I couldn’t agree more. Task sharing is not the enemy of valorisation
Dear colleagues, with the declaration we adopted this morning, we have agreed upon a shared vision and set of priorities for us as health ministers, as well as for our successors. I will not repeat the commitments we made through the declaration.
This declaration is also a good basis to reinforce our dialogue with other ministers and departments, outside the health sphere. Indeed, a whole-of-government-approach was a recurrent theme in interventions today. Last but not least, this declaration will also be the basis for the future programme of work of the health division of the OECD: I expect the next Health Committee to decide on how the programme of work can be adapted to the priorities we’ve set today.
The various areas discussed yesterday, with the stakeholders of our health systems, and today – public health and prevention, the workforce, digital health, data and AI, and pharmaceutical policy, climate change, etc. require our urgent attention, investment and collaboration. We have a clear idea about what needs to be done. We need to invest and reform to strengthen our health system and make them more people centred. And we need to do this with evidence-informed policymaking and solidarity as guiding principles.
Let me end by thank you all sincerely for your commitment to be here today, to have shared your views and learnings. Thank you to my vice-chairs for the support and your commitment. And, last but not least, thank you to the OECD Secretariat to have supported the organization of yesterday’s policy forum and today’s ministerial conference.
I can say that tonight I will leave Paris with plenty of ideas and energy and with the knowledge that, as a minister of health, I can count on all of you, dear colleagues, and on the support of international organizations to support us in the challenges ahead. And, as one colleague inspired us this morning: we can, and we will do it. Together.