The 4th Congress’ Health of Poles’ is over – check it online!

This was the largest interdisciplinary meeting this year, addressing the most critical issues of health care and medical achievements, said Prof. Henryk Skarżyński about the Congress’ Health of Poles Congress’ 2022. The Congress, organized for the fourth time, was held on October 17-18 under the slogan “Health Prevention and Innovative Solutions in Health Care.” During two congress days, seven debates, 56 panel discussions, and 50 lectures took place at the World Hearing Center in Kajetany. The Congress attendees included several hundred prominent experts in medicine and healthcare, representatives of the parliament, government, local authorities, academia (universities, medical and non-medical universities), representatives of patient organizations and the media, many of their collaborators, and a huge group of volunteers involved in the organization and dissemination of information about the Congress. The debates were transmitted online on six channels (https://kongres-zdrowiepolakow.pl/).

The co-organizers of this year’s Congress were: the Main Council of Research Institutes, the Committee for Clinical Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the World Hearing Center, the Institute of Sensory Organs, the Social Insurance Institution ZUS, and the “Health First” Foundation. Panel discussions were prepared by numerous teams of experts, scientific societies, NGOs, and patient organizations.

The initiator and organizer of the Congress – Prof. Henryk Skarżyński, welcomed the distinguished guests. – This unique interdisciplinary meeting will help develop our subsequent recommendations – he said at the outset. – Analyzing various laws and statements made by the central authorities, I can say with satisfaction that many of the previous comments and conclusions propounded by the specialist community with the support of patient organizations and scientific societies have been incorporated into various regulations, orders, and practice guidelines. So the work of so many experts has been noticed and recognized. Many personalities attend the opening of the 4th  “Health of the Poles” Congress, so I firmly believe this will also be the case this time.

At the beginning of the 4th Congress “Health of Poles,” a letter from Polish President Andrzej Duda was read by Prof. Jarosław Pinkas, a member of the Health Protection Council. In his letter, the President emphasized, among other things, that health and health security have significantly strengthened their priority in the hierarchy of values valued most highly by Poles. This creates a unique opportunity to agree on and implement far-reaching changes regarding the organization and financing of the healthcare system, improve cooperation between public and non-public entities and effectively promote pro-health attitudes.

Thanking the organizers, President Andrzej Duda wrote: This year’s motto seems of particular relevance: “Health prevention and innovative solutions in health care.” In reference to it, I am pleased to mention some of the initiatives of the presidential office. My assumption when submitting the legislative initiative on the Medical Fund to the Parliament of the Republic of Poland was that there were such goals whose financing should be as unthreatened as possible by volatile political and economic circumstances. The Fund brought to the Minister of Health additional billions of zlotys for expenses related to, among other things, preventive health care, treatment of cancer and rare diseases, digitization, innovative technologies, and modern medical infrastructure. I am also pleased to see the development of the “Healthy Life” project undertaken by the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of the State Assets, National Health Fund, and PZU S.A. The initiative encourages Poles to undergo screening, periodic examinations, and vaccinations. In the Mobile Health Zone, which travels to various Polish cities, one can undergo essential tests and receive medical advice and information on a healthy lifestyle. I am convinced that this project will help change our compatriots’ health habits and save many people’s health and lives.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I trust that in this forum and among the recognized authorities sitting on the Presidential Council for Health Care, problems of the Polish healthcare system will be carefully diagnosed, and detailed actions to solve them will be planned. On my part, I invariably declare my willingness to support any solutions that will realistically, permanently, and positively improve Poles’ health and quality of life.

Just as last year, Prof. Tomasz Grodzki, Speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland, attended the opening of the “Health of Poles” Congress. He connected online with the multimedia studio in Kajetany during a break in the proceedings of the Polish Constitutional Law Society held in the Senate of the Republic of Poland on the occasion of the 25th  anniversary of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. – Let’s remember that the articles of the Constitution describe the motto of Congress. The health of the Polish people is our greatest asset and our future. This motto is just as unusual as this conference. There is no other such multidisciplinary conference in Poland that discusses the entire spectrum of problems plaguing Polish health care – from organization to financing, or finally to such pressing problems as child psychiatry and low fertility, which was supposed to increase after the introduction of the 500+ program, and as it turns out – sad to say – the opposite is true.

I congratulate Professor Skarżyński and thank him for making an effort to bring together so many distinguished speakers. The organization of such a Congress in the pandemic and post-pandemic era is a tremendous challenge that outstanding organizers can only meet. I do not doubt that the honorary patronage of the Speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland for this event is, by all means, the right choice, and I am glad that, at least in this modest way, the Senate of the Republic of Poland can contribute to the undoubted success of this conference.

I believe this conference will create a new impulse to improve Polish health care, more responsive to expectations, although this task is as difficult as cleaning the Augean stables. I believe that with the creativity, knowledge, and ingenuity of people involved in healthcare, we will eventually be satisfied with our healthcare system. This conference is undoubtedly an essential step in that direction.

Once again, the Ombudsman took part in the opening ceremony. During his connection with the multimedia studio of the Congress, dr hab. Marcin Wiącek, a Professor at the University of Warsaw, listed his efforts to improve the health care of Poles and mentioned that the Congress was permanently incorporated into the calendar as one of the most important venues for debate on the functioning of healthcare. – I believe that the conclusions of this discussion will contribute to faster problem solving and improving the health of our country’s population, the Ombudsman said.

Mikołaj Pawlak, Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, recalling the first “Health of Poles” Congress held at the Copernicus Science Center in 2019, gave thanks for the work of representatives of all medical professions who treated and supported patients during the difficult time of the pandemic. At the opening of this year’s Congress, he drew attention to adverse trends affecting children’s psycho-physical development. One of them is declining physical activity. – Previously, we used to draw children and young people away from computers; meanwhile, for the past two years, we have been saying, “don’t go out; stay at the computer.” Now we need to change the approach again, the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights stressed, adding that the negative trends were reflected in a study he commissioned last year on the quality of life of Polish children.

 – Two decades, or even a decade ago, children lived in a different world, Mikolaj Pawlak continued, asking the rhetorical question of whether our children need more stimulation in their daily lives, including unlimited access to stimulant drinks. – Experts will also address similar problems and questions at this Congress, – he said. – Many thanks to Prof. Henryk Skarżyński for its theme of prevention and health education,– Minister Mikolaj Pawlak concluded, expressing the hope that the valuable conclusions of the deliberations would contribute to making the future of the youngest generation not only peaceful but also healthy.

Dr. Tomasz Latos, Chairman of the Parliamentary Health Committee, connecting online with the multimedia studio of the Congress, stressed the importance of identifying suitable courses of action in the field of prevention, convincing the public, and financing them. – If we bet on prevention and health promotion, we will be able to get better results in other areas as well, including those related to the economy, he said, stressing that taking care of health is associated with, among other things, the ability to stay active longer and reduce sickness absence, and that prevention and health promotion are not as expensive as treatment. At the same time, Dr. Tomasz Latos pointed out that progress in health care is faster and more visible than in other fields, predicting that artificial intelligence and innovation will be increasingly present in medicine.

Dr. Beata Małecka-Libera, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee for Health, congratulating Prof. Henryk Skarżyński on his consistency in acting for healthcare and organizing the Congress, said:

We have been talking about prevention and pro-health education for many years. However, to talk is one thing and to act is something else. Over the past three years, the world has changed, and the priorities in healthcare are different. Challenges abound, but the pandemic and the war across our eastern border have reevaluated public health. The pandemic is a lesson we should learn from and pay attention to its consequences. One of them is the health debt for people who did not go down with COVID-19 but are struggling with various health problems. This health debt, doctors predict, will stay with us in the future. Unfortunately, prevention and early diagnosis have not done their job over the past few years. Many people have been diagnosed late, which is why mortality has recently increased so much in Poland. Changing this situation is a considerable challenge. We will only be able to face it if we take care of chronic diseases comprehensively, starting with prevention, early diagnosis, and comprehensive treatment of patients (…). This calls for a change in the approach to prevention and health education, Senator Beata Libera-Malecka said, emphasizing that healthcare should not focus only on remedial medicine but on what can be done before the disease develops.

 – It makes me optimistic that we have many preventive programs. However, if I look at their implementation, I am concerned. We have the 40 PLUS program, which, unfortunately, is only implemented in a few percent; we have the Medical Fund program, in which a critical share of prevention is not implemented; and finally, we have the National Health Program, which, if only by its name, should be leading, and unfortunately, due to, among other things, the level of funding, plays a secondary role. Please pay attention to this because everything starts with prevention.

I hope that the resounding recommendations and conclusions of the Congress will be incorporated into laws and regulations, said Senator Beata Malecka-Libera, adding that when discussing public health, one should remember not only physical but mental health as well. 

Piotr Bromber, Deputy Minister of Health, reminded in his online speech of the prospect of an increase in healthcare spending to 7% of GDP in 2027 (as early as next year – 6% of GDP) and investing in healthcare workers by increasing salaries, as well as strengthening the medical profession by introducing new formal and legal regulations. – We are increasing the number of students at medical faculties, and the number of universities that train future doctors is also growing. This year, for the first time, the number of students able to start training in medical faculties exceeded 10,000. – Deputy Minister Piotr Bromber emphasized that, in the long run, all this would give Poles a sense of health security. He also reminded us that in healthcare, great importance is already attached to strengthening patient rights and the quality of services. The patient has the right to choose a medical facility freely, and medical facilities must survey patients’ opinions.

Filip Nowak, President of the National Health Fund, said during the opening: – We have granted honorary patronage to this beautiful event for a particular reason because prevention and innovative solutions in health care, which became the motto of this year’s Congress, underlay the strategy of the National Health Fund. The pandemic and war in Ukraine, consuming our attention, do not release us from conducting health-promoting activities.

The National Health Fund is not just a payer. It conducts extensive preventive activities – pointed out President Nowak, listing numerous programs implemented by the National Health Fund. – We are all aware that despite the multitude of programs, we face the problem of a lack of willingness to take advantage of the prophylaxis offer, including that of the national payer,”  President Filip Nowak added and encouraged the Congress participants to think together about what should be done to make the residents of our country, also in these difficult times, remember about prophylaxis and go to the doctor when it is not too late yet.

– The Social Insurance Institution is an institution cooperating with the system of preventive care for employees, Prof. Gertruda Uścińska, President of the Social Security Institution (ZUS), said in turn. – As the President of ZUS, in charge of paying benefits to compensate for the loss of income due to inability to work, I see great potential in preventive health care to reduce spending on these benefits. The spread of prophylaxis reduces phenomena such as sickness absenteeism, occupational accidents, and the incidence of occupational diseases. I think that prevention is an investment, Prof. Gertruda Uścińska concluded her speech.

Representatives of the world of science also attended the opening ceremony. Prof. Romuald Zabielski, Vice President of the Polish Academy of Sciences, stressed that the motto of this year’s Congress was particularly close to his heart. – As an academic, I train future veterinarians to understand a modern approach to public health protection by introducing animal production measures aimed at protecting humans from zoonotic diseases, reducing the negative impact of animal production on the natural environment, including the reduction of environmentally non-indifferent agents, such as antibiotics, – he said, recalling that similar measures were in line with the One Health concept, according to which the natural human environment, together with the plant and animal worlds, and the health of the human population is in immediate feedback.

Prof. Michał Kleiber, Chairman of the Polish Commission for UNESCO, argued that the public health sector is crucial in such challenging times in Poland and worldwide. – Security, population migration, and environmental and climate protection are fundamental issues. Still, I dare say that health care is one of the most critical challenges – he said. – After all, public health makes it possible for us to face other challenges. We often say that the country’s economic situation determines how the healthcare system can be structured. Still, we rarely consider that the economic situation depends precisely on the health care system. If there were a fundamental improvement in health care in the countries of the European Union, we would have benefits at the level of a quarter of their budgets, – stated Prof. Michał Kleiber.

Representatives of the medical professions also spoke at the Congress’s opening ceremony.

 – I see the enormous determination of the Professor, and I appreciate his commitment, consistency, and effectiveness. For over the past four years, a platform has been created, which is a stepping stone for us to introduce good changes in the health care system,  – said Dr. Łukasz Jankowski, President of the Supreme Medical Council, during his speech. – The participants, the wide range of topics, the interdisciplinary nature, and the established tradition of this Congress mean that its conclusions will be widely distributed. Discussions are the first step to changing the healthcare system – he concluded.

During her speech, Zofia Małas, President of the Supreme Council of Nurses and Midwives, pointed out that medical personnel, including the nursing community, must keep up with innovation and raise their qualifications. – Besides acquiring higher and higher qualifications, it is crucial to use these competencies, acquired during both pre-graduate and post-graduate education, for the benefit of the patient – she said, proposing to include coordination, which she identifies as the weak link of the healthcare system, in the discussion of prevention and innovation.

In turn, Elżbieta Piotrowska-Rutkowska, President of the Supreme Pharmaceutical Council, recalled in her speech that one of the important steps in prevention was the implementation of the COVID-19 and influenza vaccination program in pharmacies, which, as she stressed, was very well received by patients. More than 2 million people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in pharmacies. Elżbieta Piotrowska-Rutkowska appealed for including pharmacists, who, as she pointed out, were highly trusted by patients in implementing preventive programs. – Let’s use our potential, – she encouraged.

Dr. Andrzej Mądrala, a member of the Board of Employers of Poland, congratulated Prof. Henryk Skarżyński and the Program Board for the successful organization of the Congress and pointed out that investing in prevention, and thus in society, will mean active workers. – It is vital for policymakers to understand that health security and the economy cannot be viewed separately. It is impossible to omit a human being, often playing various roles of a student, expert, craftsman, and sometimes also patient, in the discussion on the state and its development, – Dr. Andrzej Mądrala reminded, stressing that the longer each worker remains healthy, the better it would be for public finances and the economy. By investing in prevention and innovation, we will preserve citizens’ health security, which will translate into the smooth functioning and development of our country, – he concluded his speech.

– Participation in the Congress is an opportunity to achieve the statutory goals of the Foundation of the Polish Promotional Emblem “Teraz Polska,” which is to promote Polish achievements in the field of entrepreneurship and science, Krzysztof Przybył, President of the Foundation’s Board stated. In reference to the agenda, he recalled that Poles rate their health low (on average, 55 points on a 100-point scale). Before the pandemic, the indicator was 62 points. – In light of the figures, it is vital that a patient knows the treatment options but also appreciates the importance of prevention and pursues it actively. President Krzysztof Przybył concluded that we all deserve a good quality of life and expressed his conviction that access to modern technologies may improve healthcare conditions.

A letter from the Mazovian Governor – Konstanty Radziwiłł, was read to close the opening ceremony. He wrote, among other things: Effective concern for public health requires coordination across all social and economic health on both national and global levels. The Congress, bringing together specialists from so many different fields, is a unique opportunity for dialogue. The synergy of high competencies and different points of view on healthcare issues in Poland provides an opportunity to agree on concepts that will become an important voice in the decision-making process regarding strategies and actions to improve current solutions. (…) The Congress is also an opportunity to present the results of the latest scientific discoveries, technological innovations, and organizational achievements.

Plenary debates were one of the Congress highlights, focusing on issues with a significant impact on the health of Poles. The importance of preventive programs, checkups, and early detection of diseases, including the most dangerous ones, was emphasized, among other things, during the debate dedicated to the “Healthy Life” project under the honorary patronage of the Presidential Couple. The program involves, among others, free specialized examinations and consultations in Mobile Health Zones, health education, and the promotion of prevention. The discussion opened during last year’s Congress on the vital role of local governments in prevention and health care continued during the debate entitled “Health Education in Disease Prevention” with the participation of local government representatives. Last year’s discussion was also continued during the debate “How to provide the best possible education in medical professions” with the participation of the rectors of the largest Polish medical universities and representatives of universities that have started educating medical staff recently. Should medical education be all-academic or practical? What should the clinical infrastructure be like for future doctors to gain practical experience? These are just some questions the debate participants tried to answer.

“Application of innovative solutions in medicine and health care” was the title of another debate in which the rectors of non-medical universities participated. As the discussion showed, seemingly distant fields such as pedagogy, psychology, economics, and management are gaining importance in medicine and the health care system. Therefore constant cooperation between medical and non-medical universities is necessary. Close inter-university contacts and jointly developed innovative solutions can significantly improve patient care.

Regardless of the maladies of the health care system, progress in medicine is enormous – emphasized all experts participating in successive editions of the Congress. An opportunity to talk about the breakthrough methods that changed the treatment of certain diseases over the past 30 years was this year’s debate with the participation of the Patient Ombudsman and non-governmental organizations, including those working for the treatment of cancer patients, diabetics, Alzheimer’s patients, coma patients.

Human health is greatly affected by diet. That is why the participants were enthusiastic about the “Research institutes for healthy food” debate, during which we could hear a lot of good news – it became clear from the experts’ discussion that vegetables and fruits cultivated with a lot of chemicals such as pesticides are not dangerous to health, plant varieties are bred, the fruits of which can be called superfoods, because they contain an exceptionally high percentage of ingredients valuable for health, the quality of bread is increasingly better, and in stores, you can buy pork, which – thanks to the work of scientists from the Institute of Biotechnology and Agro-Food Industry – PIB – contains a reduced amount of fat, so it is healthier and less caloric.

As in previous years, one of the debates was devoted to the role of the media in health education and prevention. Journalists from radio, television, national and trade press, and Internet portals tried to pin down the best ways to encourage healthy people to take preventive care and convince them that they are not indestructible. Should we rely solely on a positive message or emphatically show the severe consequences and dangers of neglecting prevention? Patiently explain or raise the alarm or even scare the people? During the debate, finding a single compelling message encouraging prevention was impossible. Still, the journalists exchanged their views and experiences, which may enable them to shape the audience’s thinking about their health more effectively. At the same time, they discussed another challenge for journalists, how to fight false information misleading patients, which still can be found too often, especially on social media.

The “Health of Poles” Congress constituting a forum for exchanging views and experiences, is not only for experts. The panel discussions and lectures are a valuable source of knowledge for people with health problems and those who want to prevent such issues. In addition to specialized talks on organizational and system changes or healthcare financing, the experts also touched on topics close to everyone who wants to know what currently threatens our health. Thus, among other things, they talked about post-covid conditions and drug resistance after COVID-19, the epidemic scale of obesity, including among children, and civilization diseases, the increasing prevalence of fatty liver, insomnia, and mental disorders, and others. The many topics focused on the prevention and early detection of the most severe diseases, including cancer – a separate panel was devoted to the role of trace elements in preventing such diseases.

In the age of the Internet and easy access to knowledge, the reliability of information matters. Discussion panels and expert lectures at the “Health of Poles” Congress are a rich source of such news – you can learn about the latest trends in prevention, diagnostic methods, and treatment of various diseases from Poland’s most prominent experts. Just click on https://kongres-zdrowiepolakow.pl/