Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP, Minister of State, Department of Health to the Chairman

  Further to my letter of 1 July 2005[208] on the open method of co-ordination, I promised to keep you up to date with developments in this area.

  Since the UK submitted its national report on its healthcare system for the open method of co-ordination in healthcare process, the Commission has produced a very helpful synthesis note of the reports that it received from each member state. I have included a copy of this note as an Annex to this letter (not printed).

  This helpful note outlines the similarities and differences between member states' healthcare systems in the three areas of access, quality and financial sustainability which are the focus of the open method of co-ordination in healthcare. It highlights common challenges to all EU healthcare systems such as the ageing society, prevention of ill-health and health promotion and choice. It is helpful for us to know how other member states are tackling these issues and to be able to draw lessons from this.

  In the conclusions of the note, the Commission stresses that "the aim of the OMC is not to develop common institutional solutions or to harmonise national systems. Each Member State has a unique system, and harmonisation would not make sense and is clearly not warranted. It will be up to the policy makers in each Member State to draw the appropriate lessons from the information that the Open Method of Co-ordination will make available to them and which should be usefully complemented by the work of international organisations such as the OECD and the WHO". I welcome the recognition in this text that this process should be light touch and not administratively burdensome and that it should not impact on member states' responsibilities in this area.

  In terms of next steps, this note from the Commission has fed into the Streamlining Communication on all of the different forms of open method of co-ordination in the social protection field. This Communication has been adopted and you will receive an explanatory memorandum from James Plaskitt, Parliamentary Under Secretary (Commons) at the Department for Work and Pensions who is the lead minister for the Communication very shortly.

  I will continue to keep you informed of any other relevant developments in this area.

11 January 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 11 January. In effect it is a long-awaited reply to my letter to you dated 21 July 2005.[209] Your letter was considered by Sub-Committee G on 2 March.

  We are grateful to you for drawing our attention to the conclusion about the aim of OMC in the Commission's Report on the review of preliminary policy statements on health and long-term care. This is very much in line with our own view on this and other OMC exercises which I have set out in earlier correspondence, including my letter dated 21 July 2005. So is the Commission's other conclusion that resources are too scarce to allow duplication.

  The risk of duplication is underscored by the Commission's emphasis on the need to take account of the work of existing working groups. On the other hand, we note that the Commission calls for regional and local authorities to be more involved in the OMC. We trust the Government will ensure that the right balance is struck between these elements and that the best use is made of these and any other relevant resources.

  Most of the Commission's other conclusions seem to us to be self-evident. We hope that the further activity envisaged will produce cost-effectively more meaningful insights and concrete proposals to address the rather obvious needs which have been identified.

  James Plaskitt's Explanatory Memorandum on the new Framework for Open Co-ordination of Social Protection and Inclusion Policies in the EU (reference 5070/06), which you mention, has been sifted for examination to Sub-Committee A.

  In the circumstances, we feel the time has come to release the present document from scrutiny, although we are grateful for your offer to report any further relevant developments.

2 March 2006

208   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, p 625. Back

209   Correspondence with Ministers, 45th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 243, pp 635-636. Back

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