The Health Council of the Netherlands is an independent scientific advisory body whose task is to advise ministers and Parliament in the field of public health and health/healthcare research. Ministers ask the Council for advice which they can use to substantiate policy decisions. The Health Council also has an “alerting” function: it can also give unsolicited advice. In both cases, the objective is to improve public health, whether the advice concerns the benefits of breast cancer screening, research into stem cells, prevention of obesity, the quality of natural swimming water, artificial lighting at night causing discomfort to people and animals, or occupational exposure to diesel fumes or chlorotrimethylsilane.
Both the solicited and the unsolicited advice serve as a scientific substantiation for the ministries’ development of their policies. The Council carefully charts the latest scientific knowledge and compares the different options for efficiently improving public health. It does not draft pioneering solutions to scientific problems, but rather works with the knowledge available at the time. It should be noted that the interpretation and weighting of this knowledge is an exceptionally complex task. Researchers produce divergent results, and data is not always easy to interpret. In addition, a bulk of material exists for every field.
To do justice to this complexity, the Council has recruited some 200 experts to respond to the requests for advice. The Health Council does not meet on a plenary basis, but rather works on a case-by-case basis within ad hoc committees. These committees are made up of Council members who are specialists in the relevant field and of experts who are not members of the Health Council. Together, these experts aim to reach consensus on the interpretation and weighting of the current level of knowledge. Draft reports are assessed by one of the eight standing committees before being presented to the relevant minister.