Build Back Smarter from COVID-19: The European Cancer Community Speaks Out

18 November 2020

With many thousands of excess deaths from cancer across Europe now likely as a result of COVID-19 and associated control measures, and in the wake of devastating disruption across all areas of cancer care, the European cancer community has published a ‘7-Point Plan to Address the Urgency and Build Back Better.’

Launched this morning at the European Cancer Summit, the 7 priorities recommend by the Plan are to:

  1. Urgently address the cancer backlog
  2. Restore the confidence of European citizens and patients in cancer health services
  3. Tackle medicines, products and equipment shortages
  4. Address cancer workforce gaps across the European continent
  5. Employ innovative technologies and solutions to strengthen cancer systems and provide optimal care to cancer patients
  6. Embed data collection and the rapid deployment of cancer intelligence to enhance policy delivery
  7. Secure and sustain deeper long-term European health cooperation.

Specific measures and actions recommended by the experts in the consensus publication include:

  • Incorporate a Building Back Better COVID-19 Cancer Response in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.
  • Provide strong communication from the very top of political systems (Prime Ministers, Commission leaders) about the paramount need for all citizens to continue to access health systems for all cancer related needs, including checking of symptoms, receiving treatment and participating in follow-up care.
  • Strengthen EU legislation to improve early warning notifications of forthcoming medicines shortages, and creating a European contingency reserve of medicines of strategic importance.
  • Achieve a public commitment by European governments to guarantee the right of every individual working in healthcare to the best quality Personal Protective Equipment to protect them from COVID-19 infection.
  • Develop a RescEU-like mechanism to address ongoing oncology and health workforce shortage.

 

Speaking at the publication launch, Dr Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation, said:

“The enormity of COVID-19’s impact is beyond doubt. Dreadful occasions like this remind us of the very human need for cooperation. This applies to Governments as well as individuals. We also need to think big, in a way that meets the current pandemic, and future challenges. Our 7-point plan is our contribution to this thinking. When this is over, the tired phrase, “health is not an EU legal competence”, should be sent to the dustbin of history.”

 

Prof Mark Lawler, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast and Co-Chair of the European Cancer Organisation’s Special Network on COVID-19 and Cancer, said:

“Getting smarter with cancer data is a major part of our advice to Governments. If your data is 3, 6, or even 9 months old in some cases, it’s like trying to fight COVID-19 and cancer with one hand tied behind your back. There is no excuse any more for not making our cancer data systems much more real time and data more available.  I exhort our European leaders to free the data from their silos and the shackles of bureaucracy.”

 

Dr Mirjam Crul, Responsible for Aseptic Compounding at the Amsterdam University Medical Center and Co-Chair of the European Cancer Organisation’s Special Network on COVID-19 and Cancer, said:

Living, working and cooperating with so many exhausted colleagues at the frontline of fighting COVID-19, we were determined that our 7-point plan should give serious attention to the enormous workforce and product shortage battles presently being fought. We have talked about EU action on medicines shortages for long enough now. With a forthcoming EU Pharmaceutical Strategy and Beating Cancer Plan, it’s time for concrete steps. We must build a new world for international health cooperation after 2020 and the work towards that should already be starting.”

“The 7-point plan that we propose must be implemented,” added Lawler. Otherwise, cancer will regrettably become the Forgotten “C” in the Fight against COVID-19. And if that happens, we seriously risk a cancer epidemic across Europe, undoing in less than 10 months the progress we have made in cancer outcomes in the last decade. And nobody, but nobody wants that.”