The European Forum for Primary Care was initiated in early 2005 by a group of interested parties from several countries. The aim of the Forum is to improve the health of the population by promoting strong Primary Care. This is done by advocating for Primary Care, by generating data and evidence on Primary Care and by exchanging information between its members. The Forum seeks to expand its membership and thereby to become a leading force for strengthening Primary Care in Europe.
Strong primary care (PC) produces better health outcomes against lower costs. That is the briefest summary of available scientific evidence. By promoting strong PC the population’s health can be improved. Strong PC does not emerge spontaneously. It requires appropriate conditions at the health care system level and in actual practice to make PC providers able and willing to take responsibility for the health of the population under their care. Everywhere in Europe the process of strengthening PC is ongoing. There is a strong need to collect and share information about what structures and strategies matter.
Our vision on primary care
The majority of health complaints of the people are dealt with through self-care and primary care, delivered in the local community. Addressing the needs of individuals in the context of their families and communities is one of the key features of primary care. In home care for the ageing population in intercultural care in underserved areas, primary care contributes to the development of social coherence. Therefore, family physicians operate in the framework of the local primary health care team, utilising a multidisciplinary approach. A patient-centred responsiveness, with special attention to the most vulnerable groups in society is another key feature of primary care. It requires unrestricted access of patients to primary care services. A third key-feature is the navigation function: related to the undifferentiated scala of complaints that are presented at the primary care level and to the fact that specialist care offers fragmented services, the primary care practitioners help patients to navigate through the health care system. In a number of European countries the gatekeeping role of general practitioners makes them responsible for adequate referral and guidance of patients, under the right and safe conditions.
There is ample evidence to support the claim that Primary Care offers better care and health outcomes for lower costs.
In a changing environment
Ageing of our European societies, a concern on rising costs and quality of health care and a strong wish to guarantee access to health care, are increasingly common issues in virtually all European countries.
Most countries in Central and Eastern Europe are in the process of profoundly reshaping their health system. While many Primary Care initiatives blossom at local level, mainstream health care and health policy often are not oriented towards supporting and developing Primary Care. This presents a formidable challenge for those who are involved in practice and in policy.
Increasingly, policies in the European Union impact on health and health services. Through guidelines and ordinances, but also through the Open Method of Coordination and the allocation of subsidies, opportunities are created to develop international exchange and to improve health systems through a shared vision. On the other hand, it creates the challenge to balance the market and competition oriented approach with the collaborative character of a community-oriented primary care.
What are the aspirations of the European Forum for Primary Care?
The basic aim of the Forum is to improve the European population’s health by promoting strong Primary Care. This is done by monitoring the state of Primary Care in the European countries, by collecting information on conditions that matter for strong Primary Care, and by exchanging experiences. The Forum supports PHC services at local or regional level, influences (health) policies at national and international level (EU, WHO) and supports research.
The Forum connects three groups of interested parties: the health care field, health policy makers, and the producers and evaluators of health care information. These interested parties work at three levels: the local or district level, the national level, and the supra-national level.
By linking policy practice and research the Forum intends to stimulate policy making based on vision and evidence as much as it intends to support PC practice oriented towards quality and equity.