In May 2011, Dr. Miklós Szócska, Hungary’s State Secretary of Health (Minister of Health), announced the ambitious Semmelweis Plan to reform the national healthcare system through decentralisation. Hungary has been divided into eight regions, each responsible for providing healthcare services for 1 million to 1.6 million people; each region’s healthcare services are overseen by a regional healthcare centre.
The Semmelweis Plan also designates five levels of patient care: national, regional, county, city/town, and outpatient clinics. Some national institutes and county hospitals will operate as specialist inpatient institutions, while some city and town hospitals will be converted into specialised centres providing a particular type of care, such as emergency or outpatient services.
The challenge of financing
The reorganisation is in part a response to the ongoing challenge of financing healthcare. Dr. Miklós Szócska explains, “Hungary’s budget for public services is well below the European average. We definitely should increase our public spending on health in the coming years, but we should also shift our investment focus from large institutions to new and efficient integrated care models.”
Privatisation of hospitals is one solution. Dr. Miklós Szócska says, “Hungary has university hospitals and municipal hospitals. We would like to see them become joint stock companies and to integrate with pharmaceuticals systems. Our aim is to reform every hospital and make it more efficient.”
In spite of the challenges, Hungary has performed well in its programmes to prevent communicable diseases, but now it needs to upgrade preventive healthcare. One recent initiative is a ban on smoking in public spaces, which went into effect in January this year. Dr. Miklós Szócska says, “We will launch innovative public health campaigns to prevent lifestyle related health problems and we will improve our patient screening.”
Hungary is currently establishing specialised centres where GPs will act as “gatekeepers” to direct each patient to the proper treatment facility in an effort to boost efficiency. Hungary is also developing computerised patient records so that each person’s health history can be followed and monitored. Dr. Miklós Szócska says, “We are using innovative techniques to reorganise the country’s healthcare system.”
Hungary’s healthcare reforms are creating new opportunities for investors, for example in private healthcare, medical devices manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, among other areas. In fact, the Hungarian Investment and Trade Agency cites biotech nology and pharmaceuticals as two of the country’s top choices for FDI and notes that sales of pharmaceuticals products in Hungary total over €117 million per year with exports of €752.8 million.
Modern, competitive pharmaceuticals sector
Hungary’s modern, competitive pharmaceuticals sector has attracted significant FDI. It is efficiently overseen by the National Institute of Pharmacy, an independent agency. Dr. Hilda Koszegine Szalai, General Director, explains, “Hungary has a very strong pharmaceuticals industry compared to other countries in the region and we can offer more products, particularly generic pharmaceuticals. Even before Hungary’s EU accession, the EU praised Hungary’s pharmaceuticals manufacturing, including inspections to ensure quality. Our standards are higher than in many other countries.” She adds, “Hungary is a very valid market for chemical trials, and we would like to see more of them here.”
Other healthcare segments are also attracting investor interest. Euroventures, a leading private equity firm based in Budapest, has recently invested in Medimass, which develops intelligent surgical devices, and Medicover Dental, which provides dental services. In another recent deal, US based MetLife has acquired a life insurance business in Hungary from UK based Aviva.
One potential investment target is e-health systems. Dr. Miklós Szócska commented in 2011, “The Hungarian EU Presidency recognises that e-health can contribute to a better investment in the health systems of the future and Hungary encourages innovative e-health solutions.”