Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report

10 Prevention of injuries and promotion of safety




COM(06) 328




COM(06) 329

Commission Communication: Actions for a safer Europe

Draft Council Recommendation on the prevention of injury and the promotion of safety

Legal base(a) —

(b) Article 152(4) EC; — ; QMV

Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 20 September 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-xxxv (2005-06), para 3 (12 July 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decision(Both) Not cleared; further information requested

Previous scrutiny of the documents

10.1 In July, we considered these two documents.[22] The Communication (document (a)) contains the Commission's proposals for a Community Action Plan to help reduce the suffering and loss caused by injuries. The Commission argues that action is needed because injuries are, for example:

  • the principal cause of the death of children and young people;
  • the cause of 11% of all hospital admissions; and
  • the cause of 20% of sickness absence.

Moreover, there is a wide variation between Member States in the number of deaths from injuries.

10.2 The Commission believes that a Community Action Plan is needed to complement what Member States are doing. It proposes that the priorities of the Action Plan should be:

  • to promote the safety of children, adolescents, elderly people and vulnerable road users (such as cyclists); and
  • the prevention of sports injuries, self-harm, interpersonal violence and injuries caused by products and services.

Document (a) describes the contribution the Commission intends to make to the Action Plan; it would include mounting Community-wide public information campaigns about risks, prevention and safety measures.

10.3 The Commission proposes document (b), a draft Recommendation, as a first step to combine the efforts of the Commission with those of the Member States for action to achieve a safer Europe. Document (b) recommends that Member States should:

  • develop national injury surveillance and reporting systems;
  • produce National Plans for Accident and Injury Prevention which are consistent with the priorities of the Community Action Plan; and
  • ensure that injury prevention and safety promotion are included in the training of health care professionals so that they can be competent advisers to their patients and the public.

10.4 Document (b) also invites the Commission to:

  • establish a Community-wide injury surveillance system and disseminate the information it collects;
  • create a mechanism for the exchange of information about good practice;
  • provide Member States with evidence for inclusion in the injury prevention training of their health professionals;
  • use the Community Public Health Programme, the R&D Framework Programme and the Consumer Protection Programme to support the development of good practice and action on the prevention of accidents to the priority groups identified in the Community Action Plan; and
  • four years after the adoption of the Recommendation, evaluate whether the action has been effective and assess the need for further action.

10.5 In her Explanatory Memorandum on the documents, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Caroline Flint) drew our attention to examples of action the Government and the Scottish Executive have taken to promote safety and prevent accidents. She also commented on the importance of the exchange of information between Member States and the advantages of sharing best practice. She added that, while the Government would aim to work constructively with the Commission to ensure that the costs of the proposed Community-wide surveillance and information systems were minimised, the Government would "need to consider carefully whether the proposals can be accommodated by present information and data collection systems, and if they cannot, how far they can be supported". The Minister also told us that the Government would favour the sharing of best practice across the EU rather than EU-wide public information campaigns.

10.6 In our report on the documents, we said that we did not doubt the potential benefits of sharing information and best practice between Member States. We noted, however, that the prevention of injury is an aspect of many other Community programmes and initiatives, such as those on road safety, consumer protection, health and safety at work, and violence to women and children. It was not apparent to us how the proposed new Community Action Plan on injury prevention would add usefully to what is already being done. We welcomed the Minister's intention to consider carefully how far the Government could support the proposals for new data collection systems. We also shared her caution about the Commission's proposal that it should mount Community-wide information campaigns about risks, prevention and safety. Accordingly, we asked the Minister to take account of our comments in the negotiations on the documents and to provide us with progress reports on the discussions. Meanwhile, we kept both documents under scrutiny.

The Minister's letter of 20 September 2006

10.7 The Minister agrees with us that the prevention of injuries and the promotion of safety are elements of some existing Community programmes. She says, however, that they focus on particular types of risk (such as road accidents or unsafe products), leaving other types of risk or groups of people uncovered (such as accidents at home or to children, old people and people taking part in sports). She adds:

"The fragmentation of these programmes and initiatives has obscured, to some extent, the importance of injury prevention as a public health issue and the real burden of accidental injury to health. It has also inhibited the development of overarching strategies to enhance safety. The strategy Actions for a Safer Europe aims to fill these gaps, and to add value … The strategy specifically aims to avoid duplication of work by providing a user-friendly Community health information system, including information about injuries and their causes, circumstances and the burden to health … For example, the European Injury Database project … is based on a representative sample of accident and emergency departments and injury cases. The UK is underlining in discussions with the Commission that data collection and reporting should make use of existing collections wherever possible, and that any new proposals for collecting data should not impose undue additional burdens on national health systems."

10.8 The Minister also tells us that the Commission does not propose to mount Community-wide advertising or mass media campaigns. Rather, it proposes:

" the development of policy tools eg background information, a directory of organisations working in the field, and an inventory of good practices to assist decision makers. Also, the intention is to support networking and the exchange of ideas through conferences, web pages and other communication tools. These actions aim to facilitate national, regional and local actions in a collaborative and harmonised way, but not to interfere with the responsibilities of member states. The communication campaigns are therefore to assist and support member states at various levels according to their requirements, which I welcome."

10.9 Finally, the Minister promises us further reports on the progress of the negotiations.


10.10 We are grateful for the Minister's letter. But we are not reassured by her reference to "the development of overarching strategies to enhance safety". Those words are so wide and woolly that all manner of grandiose and wasteful activities could shelter behind them.

10.11 We welcome the Minister's statement that the Commission's proposals specifically aim to avoid duplication of work. We should be grateful to know what mechanisms are proposed to achieve that aim. We also ask to be told the estimated costs of the action listed in the draft Recommendation and the proposed arrangements to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the action.

10.12 On the information currently available to us, we do not question the value of Member States sharing information with each other about accident prevention but we are doubtful about the justification for a new Community Action Plan. Accordingly, we shall keep both documents under scrutiny pending receipt of the further information for which we have asked and the progress reports the Minister has helpfully offered to send us.

22   See headnote. Back

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