EU must empower patients in healthcare policymaking

As a cancer survivor herself, Lieve Wierinck knows all too well the lasting effects the disease can have on patients, and this is why she believes they must be more closely involved in policymaking when it comes to healthcare.

Patient care | Photo credit: Press Association

By Lieve Wierinck

04 Oct 2016

Cancer is affecting more and more people. It is currently the second main cause of death in Europe, and its prevalence is rising as the population ages. 

Within the next few years, cancer is expected to affect one in two people. It's true what people say: "Cancer hits everyone". Everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life, be it their family, friends or colleagues.

Apart from being ever more prevalent, due to higher survival rates, cancer is basically transforming into a chronic disease. In Belgium, for example, through improved prevention and better treatment, the survival rate for all cancers has risen from 55 per cent to 61 per cent for men and from 65 per cent to 68 per cent for women (1999-2003 vs. 2004-2008).


I had cancer myself, but I was lucky enough to beat it and be able to move on. However, you never forget what it felt like when you were diagnosed, or how relieved you felt when the doctors told you you were cured. That is certainly a part of why I want to focus on cancer care in my parliamentary work.

Policymakers must have clear views on how to keep our healthcare accessible and affordable, especially in times of ever-stricter budgetary constraints. Sustainability is a challenge that requires an overarching EU view, as well as targeted actions in the member states. From a policy perspective, there is no single formula applicable to all countries that will deliver a more sustainable healthcare system.

It is crucial that we have a clear view of how we should design our policies, ranging from the design of our cancer care pathways, the setup of our hospital landscape and the development of ways to ensure innovation and timely market access to new and innovative therapies.

It is important that we do not look at these aspects in isolation, but that we tackle them all together. By breaking silos, continuous monitoring and data gathering throughout the entire cancer care pathway, we should be able to better understand where inefficiencies still persist and how they can be tackled. 

This also raises the question of gathering real world data on cancer therapies, which again should help us understand the optimal treatment for various cancers.

But not all of the inefficiencies can be remedied at the supply side of problem. Patients should be more involved in the entire process. We should empower them and actively take the patient's perspective into account.

While giving them a stronger voice in any reform or measure aimed at improving efficiency in cancer care, we should also raise awareness about patients' role in improving efficiency.

This can go from cancelling meetings with healthcare professionals to less than optimal adherence to ongoing treatments. Both at European and national levels, policymakers need to streamline their procedures to allow potential life-saving treatments to reach the patient as fast as possible.

More convergence of health technology assessment procedures on EU level would be a massive step forward, and faster reimbursement decisions would be an equally positive step forward on the national level. 

Faster and simpler procedures mean less cost for producers, a shorter time to market and faster patient access to innovative treatments. If ever there is efficiency to be gained, administrative and procedural harmonisation and simplification is the way to go.


Read the most recent articles written by Lieve Wierinck - Time to launch a European Cancer Plan