Impact and communication were the key themes of the kick-off session of the Public Health Research Day organised by DG Research and innovation in the European Commission. to present EU investment in public health research and discuss current trends, challenges and future needs. While impact and uptake of research results play a crucial role in EU funded projects, communication is a key element that, in the words of the European Commission, should to be more vigorously pursued. In a communiqué to Horizon2020 grant recipients last week, the Commission urged researchers to take up the role of science ambassadors asserting that: “you are the ones who can speak most convincingly about the impact of your project, be it on everyday lives, on our economy, on policy-making or on the future of our society.”
To illustrate this key point, the Commission showcased a recent contribution by the Belgian microbiologist Hermann Goossens on the EU’s success in the field of AMR research. Against the backdrop of uncertainty created by Brexit, scepticism about the contribution “experts” make to society and growing misgiving about the European project, a concentrated effort to bring the role and impact of science closer to EU citizens is certainly of growing importance. Impact, in this context, should be defined across achievements in tackling grand societal challenges with a strong orientation towards Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which, as several participants at the Public Health Research Day put forward, represent a particularly useful framework against which to assess changes in population health.
The European Commission is currently in a key phase of evaluating the current Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, and conceptualizing the future Framework Programme, at this stage called FP9. Results from the mid-term evaluation and first steps towards future programming can be expected in autumn, based on the 3500 contributions received in response to the public consultation on Horizon2020. As a next step, the Commission will propose a first outline for the next framework programme based on the results of the so-called Bohemia study, in which a number of European foresight experts are involved. There is little doubt that health will remain a key pillar for the future of EU funded research activities. This is also reflected by the ongoing work of the Scientific Panel for Health (SPH) that aims to ensure a long-term strategy in health research and its timely uptake into the overall research programming exercise. However, as usual the devil is in the detail. One pertinent question arises around the future budget allocation and priority setting in health research: Will EU funded research be able to account for the multidimensional nature of public health-related challenges? How will health fare alongside other growing priorities, notably the evolving nature of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) or mounting emphasis on defence research?
The public health research community, representing progress and lessons learnt from over 50 EU funded health projects, certainly made strong arguments to support EU funded public health research. Discussions revolved around key areas covering population health, global health, health services and workforce, and health Information and Communications Technology. EPHA represented the FRESHER project and participated in discussions on the future impact of major societal challenges on population health.
With respect to future requirements for health research, discussion highlights included emerging issues such as behavioural and social aspects of health technologies, funding for longer-term projects including longitudinal studies, better involvement of low and middle income countries, gaps in paediatric research and the role of the EU in facilitating data interoperability. An encouraging aspect of the event was a strong presence of cutting edge projects related to mental health and e-mental health, an area that is clearly underrepresented in EU policy frameworks. The output of all discussions that the Commission termed as ‘ongoing dialogue’ will be published in a public health journal in due course. EPHA will continue to share information about the evolving process of the current programming exercise and emerging possibilities for civil society to contribute to the process.
Policy Coordinator for EU Semester and Social Pillar Project Manager FRESHER