Understanding European healthcare systems

For some 2016 will be remembered for Brexit and the building of walls, for me it was HOPE and getting a closer understanding of Europe, its citizens and the various healthcare systems. If you’re confused or interested read on, writes Joseph Ruane.

HOPE (www.hope.be) is the European Hospital and Healthcare Federation which represents both national, public and private hospital associations and covers institutions from 28 member states of the EU (and also Switzerland & Republic of Serbia). HOPE promotes and performs comparative activities. Research topics are identified by members’ representatives, the overall purpose being to help share knowledge and expertise throughout Europe.

In 1981, in pursuance of its objectives, HOPE decided to set up an Exchange Programme for hospital professionals. Originally intended for hospital professionals the Exchange Programme is now open to other healthcare professionals and some countries are already hosting participants in non-hospital healthcare facilities.

This Exchange Programme aims to lead to better understanding of the functioning of healthcare and hospital systems within the EU and neighbour countries, by facilitating co-operation and exchange of best practices. This Exchange consists of a four week training programme for professionals with managerial responsibilities working in hospitals and healthcare facilities to experience another healthcare system. After this exchange period there is an annual conference where the group of participants from each host country get to present their perspective/findings from the exchange period.

This Exchange Programme aims to lead to better understanding of the functioning of healthcare and hospital systems within the EU and neighbour countries, by facilitating co-operation and exchange of best practices.

After completing the necessary application process, I was successful in getting a place on the HOPE programme 2016 and I did my exchange to the Netherlands and was one of three participants from Ireland on the Programme (along with Tina Coleman who visited Finland and Ray Healy who visited Denmark). Three participants visited Ireland from Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.

In Holland I was located in Zwolle, along with English and Italian participants. Every morning would see the three of us cycling to work. Every day consisted of our getting to meet with various service managers from various healthcare settings. These meetings generated much discussion and reflection where every health care challenge was discussed with four perspectives – the Dutch, the Italian, the English and obviously the Irish one! Furthermore we met up with the other participants who were in Holland and further views were exchanged with the National Co-ordinator challenging us in our reflections of our experience in Holland but also comparing, contrasting with our experiences in our own country

What did I learn about Dutch healthcare system – yes it’s very good, well managed and well resourced but when you consider that the Netherlands is smaller than Ireland with three times the population and more money with which to work. Illustrative of this are OECD Health Statistics 2014 which show that health expenditure, public and private, as a share of GDP, OECD countries, 2012 or latest year rank Netherlands at 11.8% and Ireland at 9%.

The use of technology and volunteers to support the work of staff and patients experience is noteworthy. But yet from discussions with colleagues there, they still have the same challenges insufficient money and trying to meet various regulatory/accreditation standards.

At the end of the four weeks, the participants in each country come to one location to attend a conference where they get to prepare a joint presentation on their learnings and experiences in their host country. This “Agora Conference” was held in Rome and I’m pleased to say that the Netherland’s Group which I was part of, won the award for the presentation titled “Innovation in hospitals and healthcare: the way forward”. There was also a presentation from the participants who visited Ireland. This was well received and they acknowledged the hospitality and information they received whilst in Ireland.

As this was HOPE’s 50th year, the “Agora Conference” was also noteworthy in that former presidents were in attendance including Denis Doherty and current present of the European Healthcare Managers Federation, Mr, Gerry O’Dwyer both of whose contributions during the conference noted Ireland’s long history of participation in the programme, but also generated reflection and thought around how Europe was dealing with the refugee crisis and the Brexit debate.

Next year will see the 2017 “Agora” Conference take place in Dublin.

The Hope Exchange Programme and subsequent Agora Conference was a great personal and professional experience and I couldn’t recommend the programme more. Further information is available at www.hope.be and www.hope-agora.eu

Finally I would like to acknowledge on my own behalf and that of other participants, Eamonn Fitzgerald (National Co-ordinator/Hermitage Medical Clinic), Pat Bennett (HSE), Siobhan Regan (HSE), Maureen McCabe (Hermitage Medical Clinic), Mary Shore (Hermitage Medical Clinic) and all individuals who took time out of their busy diaries to facilitate meetings with participants on the programme.

Joseph Ruane, Area Manager, HSE DML – Midlands Area, HSE Area Office, Arden Road, Tullamore. Co Offaly.