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#europeforpatients goes local as Malta Health Network gathers the support of 13 MEP candidates

Our Member Malta Health Network (MHN) gathered representatives from their 43 member organizations to discuss the future of health. These discussions were followed by 13 MEP Candidates from all parliamentary groups, who pledged their support for our #europeforpatients manifesto for the 2019 European Elections.

We are most grateful to MHN for helping us spread the message, and bring issues that matter to patients to the attention of all the MEPs and candidates who have signed our support card! We hope to receive similar levels of support from other Member States.

EPF asked Gertrude Buttigieg, Chairperson of Malta Health Network a few questions on their outreach strategy. We truly appreciate the time they took to share these useful tips on how to effectively reach out to MEP candidates in a pre-election period.

How did you manage to attract all this attention in little time? Did you have a strategy, or use any particular channels?

We used what our name says – networking. We also applied common-sense, communication and we made the best of our very limited resources. We planned the event to be in conjunction with our Annual General meeting where we knew organisations would join. We knew people would be busy, so we made the meeting informative enough but not too heavy. We set the date by the first week of January, we prepared an agenda and looked up contacts of the MEP candidates who had indicated they were sitting for the elections. This required talking to people, getting contacts and even using social media to send private messages to get an email address. Everyone was very helpful and forthcoming. We sent an invitation letter via email the first week of the year, inviting them for a meeting where we would present our election priorities of the health sector primarily on a European level, and offer them the opportunity to meet with representatives of our member organisations. We believe that this is a very important opportunity to get to know the local partners who could be important stakeholders for possible consultation and collaboration should they be elected on the European Parliament. Immediately we had very positive responses, and the candidates who knew that they could not make it asked for individual meetings. A second email with more literature including the #europeforpatients manifesto and support card was sent about 1 week prior to the event. 

What was the format of your encounter with MEPs? (Virtual, an event, a meeting, etc?)

We had a meeting with a very simple and straight forward agenda. It was a meeting by invitation but we promoted it as a 'healthy discussion about health'. We started with a presentation of about 15 minutes about MHN and its members and we also presented the #europeforpatients manifesto. A soft copy of the manifesto and pledge cards had already been sent by email by EPF. The meeting was then addressed via a SKYPE call with Mariano Votta, from Active Citizenship Network, who invited the MEP candidates for an event ACN is holding for the 13th Patients' rights day in Brussels in April.  We then invited representatives of member organisations to present their organisations and their views, and this was a very interesting moment of the event where although diverse many common elements came out such as importance of prevention, multi-disciplinary management of health conditions and patient centered care. All MEP candidates present then were given time to reply to the comments they heard earlier, some explained their interest or past work related to health and they publicly promised to the pledge. However, they also asked us to remind them of their pledge if they are elected! Prior to the event we had some individual meetings with MEP candidates who also joined us on the 28th February. One MEP candidate who could not join the meeting gladly signed the pledge and took photos soon after our 1-1 meeting. Another MEP candidate did not manage to come, but we had worked with him in the past as an MEP and whilst he apologized for not attending sent us photo with the signed declaration. To us having such a response was beyond our imagination!

In view of the European Elections, what would be your message to other national patient organisations?

Although we are living in the virtual era, as human beings we still need human contact, we need to see each other and talk to one another. Thus I encourage patient organisations either to organize a similar event to ours - possibly not on a national level (due to the size of other European Countries), but on a regional or even local level.  I suggest that getting the different patient groups together and meeting as many MEP candidates as possible is worth trying even if you speak to 1 or 2. You never know you might have chosen the one who gets elected and even if they don't they will probably still be active on a national or local level. Once a contact is set it is worth nurturing.