VWS State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen does not want to lay down health goals in law as a stick behind the door. He made this known in response to an open letter from, among others, the KNMG, in which this was suggested as one of the ways to tackle health inequalities due to poverty. The Council for Public Health and Society (RVS) advocates precisely such legal goals.
Last month, the KNMG, together with about seventy other civil society organisations, asked the cabinet to combat socio-economic health inequalities, for example by enshrining health goals in law. This has also been requested in the House of Representatives by parties such as the Party for the Animals, GroenLinks and PvdA. And this Tuesday, the Council for Public Health and Society is calling for the same.
In a report on improving public health care, the RV states that not only more people and money are needed. According to the RV, it is also necessary to set legal targets, to appoint a government commissioner for public health and to draw up a delta plan in which ‘social determinants of health’, such as income and living environment, are central.
But in a letter to Parliament, Van Ooijen states that he is ‘not convinced’ of the usefulness of statutory health targets. According to the State Secretary, it is difficult to set target values for health promotion, because improvements are ‘much more difficult to capture in numbers’ than, for example, with environmental legislation. He also notes that many factors play a role in tackling health differences, and that many parties are therefore responsible. According to the State Secretary, ‘it detracts from that joint responsibility’ if a minister is made ultimately responsible through legislation. Moreover, this ‘ignores people’s individual responsibility and freedom of choice’, according to Van Ooijen.
The KNMG, which is supported by the various elements from the RVS report, is disappointed. According to KNMG chairman René Héman, legal anchoring is necessary for continuity of policy. Héman: ‘Public health care requires a long breath and is not served if different accents are formulated in policy every term of office.’ The KNMG would also like such ‘handles to call the government to account and force it to act’.
Van Ooijen believes that agreements and goals included in the National Prevention Agreement and in the more recent Healthy and Active Life Agreement (GALA, concluded at the beginning of this year with VNG, GGD GHOR and Zorgverzekeraars Nederland), already lead to ‘less non-commitment’. According to Héman, this is a ‘good step’, but more is needed to achieve ‘health in all policies’.