Working Against Cancer: Giving Professionals the Right Tools for the Job

07 April 2021

The European Cancer Organisation (E.C.O.) has published a consensus paper conveying the critical challenges for the cancer workforce in the context of implementing Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. The four key challenges are described as:

  • Resolving the difficulties caused by workforce shortages
  • Reducing unnecessary barriers to professional mobility
  • Improving occupational conditions to protect the safety and well-being of healthcare professionals working in cancer care
  • Enhancing education and development opportunities for healthcare professionals that are now even more achievable in the digital age

The Report, ‘Working Against Cancer: Giving Professionals the Right Tools for the Job’, was written in close consultation with the Workforce Network of the European Cancer Organisation, and E.C.O.’s Member Societies, Patient Advisory Committee members and other invited expert stakeholders. The paper sets out clear, pragmatic and achievable recommendations, that are immediately available, and that will bring about improvement across all four of these challenge areas. This includes:

  • Populating the Beating Cancer Plan’s Inequalities Registry with a clear section dedicated to measuring patient access to cancer professions across Europe
  • Initiating a cancer-related skills partnership under the EU ‘Pact for Skills’ strategy
  • Establishing a RescEU style mechanism to help alleviate cross-border oncology workforce shortages
  • Proactively deploying the Professional Qualifications Directive to support specialisms in cancer care in harmonising education and training requirements;
  • Addressing exposure of healthcare workers to cytotoxic products through coverage under the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive
  • Providing balanced attention to ALL cancer professions and specialties involved in cancer control within the Beating Cancer Plan’s new Inter-specialty Cancer Training Programme
  • Legally codifying at the EU level the already widespread (but not yet universal) practice of continuous professional development as a mandatory requirement for healthcare professionals

Commenting on the Report’s publication, Dr Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation, said:

“Without a cancer workforce you have no cancer care. So now, as Europe looks to implement a remarkable Beating Cancer Plan, we must give proper thought to the tools we’re going to use to do the job. That means understanding what the cancer workforce needs are at this time.

From addressing workforce shortage, to enhancing cross-border mobility; from improving working conditions, to elevating educational opportunities, in our new paper we provide a range of consensus recommendations that can better ensure those behind the delivery of EU cancer ambitions are supported effectively.”

Prof Andreas Charalambous, Network Co-Chair and President-Elect of the European Cancer Organisation, said:

“COVID-19 has been wakeup call on many matters, including finally achieving political action on the problems of medicines and product shortages in Europe. Now we need similar attention to address well known shortages in our healthcare workforce, including cancer care.

Whether in respect to cancer nurses, or pathology, or other professions critical to the provision of high quality cancer care, if we don’t seriously tackle the workforce shortage issues, our ability to achieve Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan will be compromised. Our report outlines the available remedies.”

Dr Mirjam Crul, Network Co-Chair and Vice-President of the European Society of Oncology Pharmacy (ESOP), said:

“Every employee has a right to expect their safety and wellbeing will be protected by their employer. Yet, as we identify in our paper, there are a range of hazards that healthcare professionals working in cancer care can be faced with. This includes potential hazardous exposures specific to cancer care, psychosocial risks from workplace stress and pressure, and the need to ensure healthcare professionals are working in environments with strong patient safety cultures.

Our paper outlines how we can go forward together in Europe in ensuring every working environment for cancer care professionals is as supportive to employee wellbeing as possible.”

Commenting on the Report’s recommendations on professional mobility Professor Geerard Beets, Network Co-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Maastricht University, said:

“When a particular profession completes all the hurdles to achieve an EU-level cross border automatic recognition of a qualification, society benefits greatly. This is especially the case in cancer care, as experts can bring their specialised skills and contribution to where they can make the most difference. Knowledge flow across borders accelerates.

Yet so many complicated barriers to achieving automatic recognition of a qualification remain. Its time for a paradigm shift. Lets encourage harmonisation of qualifications across borders before divergence becomes a regulatory problem, not after.

As we take forward a European plan against Cancer, lets free up our cancer workforce to better share expertise across borders.”