GIG: Austerity has hit state healthcare spending hard in recent years. Looking ahead, what are the key aspects of your healthcare policy?
Kontozamanis: Our government is committed to a strong, effective, and efficient healthcare system. A system that, as the country recovers, will become stronger and better – a system that is patient-centric, meets all needs, offers value-based services, focuses on outcomes, and which adheres to the principles of modern management, clinical governance, and health-technology assessment.
The current state of the healthcare system reflects the results of former policy failures pertaining to lack of planning, inefficient use of resources, and the provision of fragmented and uncoordinated services.
We have planned for major reforms that meet the criteria of equality, social justice, the efficient use of resources, and the improvement of clinical practice. We are confident that by leapfrogging ahead we will meet major targets such as the digital transformation of the health sector, which is a prerequisite for the delivery of high-quality health services to the population.
GIG: Private healthcare companies have been implementing investments in recent years, helping boost the quality of services on offer. This in turn has helped draw a growing number of foreign patients. How do you see Greece’s health tourism evolving, and what kind of potential does Greece have in this field? What is your strategy? And what kind of cooperation do you foresee between public and private healthcare providers?
Kontozamanis: The Greek government has a strategic plan for Greece to become a medical tourism and silver-economy services destination. The country holds unique characteristics such as modern infrastructure, highly trained healthcare personnel with international recognition, world-class facilities, and advanced medical technology in line with European quality and safety standards.
The private sector holds the opportunity to gain access to a significant market, with the potential to grow further through medical tourism and silver-economy healthcare services.
We strongly believe in the cooperation between public and private healthcare providers. It is time we moved beyond the typical relationship with the private sector as a supplier to one where the private sector is a strategic partner and a driving force behind quality and efficiency improvement and the realisation of synergies. By encouraging private partners to achieve efficiencies through improved management practices and systems, we envisage improving services while remaining cost-neutral to both the government and patients.
To that end, the ministry is currently in the process of designing healthcare Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) schemes for the upgrading of existing services offered and the development of new services.
GIG: There have also been significant investments in the sector from foreign funds (Iaso Group, Hygeia Hospital). Do you see this trend continuing? Why should a foreign investor consider private healthcare in Greece?
Kontozamanis: Indeed, the sector has attracted significant investment, with international investors having secured strong footholds in the market. We welcome these investments and consider them to be the first phase in a multi-phased investment plan that includes – in addition to creating efficiencies by restructuring existing healthcare operations – significant new capex in order to expand into medical tourism, rehabilitation, well-being, and the silver economy. These are segments with strong potential that remain largely untapped.
We aim to modernise existing legislation as well as to improve the regulation of the health services market, which could create new opportunities for investors. Also, by encouraging private partners to achieve efficiencies through improved management practices and systems, we envisage improving services while remaining cost-neutral to both the government and patients.
No doubt, an investor in healthcare can work closely with our government on investment programs where funding will have a stable return within the agreed period.
GIG: Greece’s pharmaceutical industry is currently ranked by the Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies (SFEE) as the country’s fourth largest exporter and is set to play a key role within the scope of R&D and innovation. Yet the clawback and rebate system have placed a great deal of strain on pharmaceutical companies. What is your perspective on this matter?
Kontozamanis: We strongly believe that the pharmaceutical industry and the health sector, in general, are a driving force of the country’s economic growth. We recognise the added value of the Greek pharmaceutical industry in the national economy. We want it to be extroverted, competitive, and innovative. We support entrepreneurship in the health sector to increase investment, R&D, and employment.
We recognise the strain on pharmaceutical companies due to clawbacks and rebates, and we are planning specific structural measures and value-based solutions to minimise this burden and make the system more efficient and effective.
In this direction, apart from tax and investment incentives, we will shortly sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the pharmaceutical industry associations. This will define the bilateral relationships towards market stability and predictability.
GIG: Prime Minister Mitsotakis announced a number of incentives at the Thessaloniki International Affair in a bid to draw investments into the pharma space and encourage continued R&D. Can you tell us about these measures and their expected impact? What feedback have you received from players within the sector?
Kontozamanis: This government aims to turn Greece into an attractive investment destination and a health technology hub. Our decision, stipulated by law, to offset clawback with R&D expenses is of major importance in this direction.
The results of our policy are already visible. The Greek pharmaceutical industry has already announced investment plans amounting to €300 million. Pfizer, a leading worldwide pharmaceutical company, will base one of its six international centres of digital technology in Thessaloniki, focusing on technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data analytics for the development of new treatments.
We also look forward to setting up an Expert Advisory Board of eminent Greek businessmen, scientists, and researchers abroad, who will advise the government on health issues and aid to attract investment.
GIG: International pharmaceutical companies have expressed an interest in increasing the presence of the clinical trial segment within the Hellenic market. What potential do you see within this space? What additional measures, if any, should we expect?
Kontozamanis: Greece has the potential to become a centre of excellence in the field of clinical trials. The benefits from a clinical trial go beyond the parties strictly involved in its undertaking. Clinical trials influence not only the advancement of medical science, but they also contribute to the enhancement of the knowledgebase of the economy, they attract a highly specialised workforce, and they promote investment and the inflow of capital into the country.
We are planning to take advantage of the capacity and expertise of the Greek scientific community. We are redesigning the institutional framework under which clinical trials are conducted to become more competitive.
Moreover, in this context, we are working towards Greece becoming a hub in the use of real-world evidence data by developing patient records, utilising electronic prescription data, and developing a network of collaboration between stakeholders and centres of excellence in the management of diseases towards informed decision-making. Investments could reach €100 million annually, while at least 2,000 highly skilled jobs are expected to be created.