The Time to Act is Now. Action Report from Covid-19 & Cancer Workforce Special Network Meeting

03 June 2021

By Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation

The European Cancer Organisation’s Workforce Network and Special Network on the Impact of Covid-19 on Cancer have both published timely and important policy papers in recent months that set out the key challenges resulting from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

These Reports are accompanied by firm policy recommendations, backed up by robust intelligence and active campaigns, to address these challenges and ensure we not only overcome the problems caused by the pandemic, but also seize the possibilities to rebuild our cancer care systems and make them more resilient.

Some of these challenges are common to both Networks, such as workforce shortages and difficult working conditions, as is the opportunity to build back better from Covid-19. This includes the greater deployment of digital solutions to streamline care and reduce the risk of errors.

To examine these challenges and opportunities, achieve synergies in the activities of the two Networks during 2021, and obtain mutual support for their policy objectives, the European Cancer Organisation called a Covid-19-Workforce Special Network meeting.

Held on 28 April 2021, the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, the joint meeting updated Member Societies, Patient Advisory Committee members and other stakeholders on the latest activities of the Time To Act campaign, which was launched internally with European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on 7 April, 2021.

The campaign urges cancer patients and citizens, healthcare professionals, policymakers and health system leaders not to let Covid-19 stop them from tackling cancer, despite all the disruption brought about by the pandemic. Cancer must remain at the top of everyone’s agenda, with particular emphasis on addressing the cancer backlog and ensuring that cancer services keep going and stay free of Covid-19.

To achieve that, the European Cancer Organisation is collaborating with national societies, patient organisations, charities and the healthcare industry to develop a toolkit that has been translated into over 30 European languages and launched on 11 May, 2021.

Participants at the meeting were then invited to share their experiences of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on cancer care, and exchange ideas on the key priorities for building back services and ensuring healthcare systems are robust enough to face future challenges.

Key themes that emerged from the discussion included the lack of early cancer detection, and disruption to multidisciplinary and coordinated care, as well as to clinical trials. These have been accompanied by rising distress in citizens and in cancer patients, and higher rates of burnout among healthcare professionals.

The need for comprehensive data to understand the impact of the pandemic on cancer care was underlined, alongside the need for greater access to speciality training to allow healthcare professionals to adapt to the evolving clinical realities brought about by the pandemic, alongside novel strategies to ensure the ongoing provision of care.

Finally, the Workforce Network presented its consensus paper Working Against Cancer: Giving Professionals the Right Tools for the Job, which was launched on 7 April 2021. This sets out the key workforce challenges in the context of implementing Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, with particular emphasis around workforce shortages, professional mobility, working conditions, and educational and developmental opportunities, all of which have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

To resolve these difficulties, the paper, written in close consultation with European Cancer Organisation’s Member Societies, Patient Advisory Committee members and other invited expert stakeholders, sets out a series of clear policy recommendations, as well as the next steps required to make sure they become a reality for the cancer workforce all across Europe.

Overall, the meeting was an excellent opportunity for participants to exchange ideas and the result was a series of extremely positive inputs that gave us all clear direction for rebuilding cancer services. Above all, it underlined that the Time To Act is now. In the words of the campaign:

Don’t let Covid-19 stop you from tackling Cancer.

Read the Action Report here.