What are ERNs?

European Reference Networks (ERNs) are virtual networks involving healthcare providers across Europe. They aim to tackle complex or rare diseases and conditions that require highly specialised treatment and a concentration of knowledge and resources. To review a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, ERN coordinators convene ‘virtual’ advisory boards of medical specialists across different disciplines, using a dedicated IT platform and telemedicine tools. No country alone has the knowledge and capacity to treat all rare and complex dis-eases. ERNs offer the potential to give patients and doctors across the EU access to the best expertise and timely exchange of life-saving knowledge, without having to travel to another country.

Following the first call for proposals in July 2016, the first ERNs were approved in December 2016 and launched in March 2017 in Vilnius where their kick off meetings took place.. At their inception, the networks com-prised more than 900 highly specialised healthcare units located in 313 hospitals in 25 Member States (plus Norway). 24 ERNs are working on a range of thematic issues, including bone disorders, childhood cancer and immunodeficiency. Over the next 5 years, ERNs are expected to reinforce their capacities to ben-efit thousands of EU patients suffering from a rare or complex condition. Calls for healthcare providers wanting to join existing ERNs will be launched yearly.

The ERN initiative receives support from several EU funding programmes, including the Health Programme, the Connecting Europe Facility and Horizon 2020. EU Member States lead the ERN process: they are responsible for the recognition of centres at national level; they endorse the applications; and a Board of Member States is responsible for developing the EU ERN strategy and approving the networks.

Reference: “European Reference Networks. Working for patients with rare, low-prevalence and complex diseases. Share. Care. Cure”. European Union. 2017.