Michael West: Health 2020

At the 14th European Health Forum Gastein (5-8 October 2011), a group of “Young Gasteiners” blogged live from the talks. A selection of their blogs are on the BMJ blogsite.

Michael WestThe Health 2020 session at the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), sponsored by WHO Europe, provided a chance to discuss and contribute towards WHO’s developing regional health policy – Health 2020. The session discussed both the aims of the policy, and what capabilities will be needed to implement it.

This exposes an issue which goes to the heart of EHFG and the Young Gastein initiative in particular – the relationship between research and policy. There was an overall sense of frustration that the ever growing mountain of scientific research has not been taken up by policymakers. If the facts are clear – why has action not followed?

And yet, on this, the speakers were also optimistic. WHO is developing tools to bridge the gap, and there was also a lot of discussion about presenting the evidence in ways more relevant to policymakers – for example showing the short term benefits of public health interventions. Crucially there was also a discussion about projects which do not have significant up front costs. Such arguments are essential. Irrespective of the rhetoric, in these straightened economic times, ministers are unlikely to spend big now for benefits which will only arrive many years in the future. An ever growing pile of research papers is not enough – campaigners and researchers need to use language which is relevant to politicians.

Further questions for debate might include:

  • How can we bring detailed, long term science, and pressured, short term politics together without damaging the contribution of either to the overall debate?
  • What skills do policymakers need to operate in the new public health world of “health in all policies?”
  • There has been a lot of discussion of whether and how policymakers understand and use the research evidence. But would researchers also benefit from a better understanding of policymaking?

Michael West is a Young Gasteiner.

You can read more blogs from the Young Gasteiners on the BMJ blogsite. The rest can be read on www.ehfg.org/blog