Beating the Big C – together
One of the great advantages of working in Brussels is that you get a truly European perspective on healthcare. Some days, this is inspiring: you see initiatives that share best practices and raise standards of care for millions of citizens. Other days, the picture is less rosy: comparisons between countries tend to put the spotlight on glaring inequalities for patients. And with a complex web of roles and responsibilities, turning knowledge into action is in not always straightforward.
Today, on World Cancer Day (4 February), those of us working in the health policy world may feel a bit of both. Overall, cancer outcomes are improving across Europe: cancer mortality is slowing down, more cancer patients can expect to live longer, to have more moments that matter for them, their relatives and loved ones. But not to the same extent everywhere in Europe. There is a gap between the best and worst performing Member States and it is wide. This was illustrated in the blog on the Time To Patient Access (TTPA) project published last year and in the recently-launched Comparator Report on Cancer in Europe.
Screening and timely access to cancer care is one of the preconditions for better outcomes. However, people with cancer in the Czech Republic wait seven times longer than those in Denmark. In the Netherlands, 9 out of 10 new cancer medicines authorised by the European Medicines Agency are available to patients – in Poland, just 2 such therapies are available.
None of us has all the solutions. Only by pooling our collective knowledge about the barriers to access and extending what works in the countries and regions with the best patient outcomes will we have a serious chance of expanding the benefits that innovation in oncology has to offer, across Europe.
Identifying barriers and solutions
One of the ways that the EFPIA Oncology Platform contributes to addressing inequalities in access and outcomes is by building understanding of the access landscape and of the factors which cause access delays. Then by facilitating multi-stakeholders dialogue, the Platform aims to drive change and shared solutions. The TTPA and Comparator Report offer data-driven insights on the challenge we face. When decision-makers and citizens see significantly better five-year survival rates for colon cancer and breast cancer in the Netherlands compared to Poland, it should trigger a concerted effort to fix an unacceptable disparity.
These problems are ‘fixable’. Beyond simply calling attention to the challenge of unequal access to different forms of innovation including screening and prevention, we are playing our part in identifying barriers to progress and seeking collective efforts to offer concrete solutions.
The TTPA report identifies nine ‘delaying factors’ that cause patients in some Member States to wait more than two years for innovative therapies. Some are ‘process’ issues, including complex decision making; others are due to inconsistent assessment criteria; while patients in several countries also face delays because their national health systems are ill-prepared to integrate new therapies into existing care pathways.
The Comparator Report also offers a positive path forward: new approaches to clinical research and regulation, healthcare assessment and decision-making; the use of new tools for data monitoring of patient outcomes; and modernised pricing and reimbursement models.
Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan
Perhaps the best reason to be optimistic about tackling unacceptable delays and disparities is the momentum gathering behind Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. As Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, opens today’s conference in the European Parliament together with Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, stakeholders will learn what ‘striving for more’ means in the context of beating cancer.
Our hope and our commitment is that all stakeholders will play an active role in charting the way forward in the fight against ‘the Big C’. Cancer is indeed a big challenge and it is one that we can rise to together. The big “C” can also be a signal for hope: a C for “collaboration”, for “commitment” and for “concerted action”.
Let’s make today one of those inspiring days where we go home with a shared sense that we can beat cancer in every corner of our continent and beyond. Then tomorrow, and in the days and weeks that follow, we must work as one to deliver our promise to friends, relatives and the people of Europe.