EU’s Beating Cancer Plan more ‘vital’ than ever, says EU Health commissioner

Addressing MEPs from the new Special Committee on Beating Cancer, Stella Kyriakides said the Plan will help plug the gaps in national cancer care treatment.
Commissioner Stella Kyriakides

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

03 Nov 2020

Speaking at the second meeting of the European Parliament’s new Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA), Kyriakides, who is responsible for health and food safety, said, “We are at a very critical phase in the pandemic and it is impacting people with chronic diseases including cancer patients.”

"We are working closely with Member States to ensure they respond but, believe me, we are not wasting any time on this. This is an urgent priority.”

Committee member, EPP group MEP Peter Liese, pointed out that, with many countries now experiencing a second wave of the virus, it was “clear” that cancer patients, especially those currently undergoing chemotherapy, “are at risk.”

The German deputy, a medical doctor, cited Belgium as an example where cancer treatment has been postponed because the healthcare system has been “overwhelmed” with patients suffering from Coronavirus.

He said this was why it was so important for people to abide by social distancing rules, adding, “remember, when we respect these rules we are also protecting cancer patients.”

Kyriakides agreed that the crisis could “slow down access to treatment” for patients with cancer and this was a problem compounded by the fact that some Member States do not have cancer screening programmes.

“It is evident that cancer is a huge public health issue for Europe which weighs heavily on healthcare systems. That is why we need to do more. But governments cannot do it alone: we all have a part to play and that is why I welcome the parliament’s initiative in setting up this committee. It can mobilise a multi stake approach and reach out to citizens" Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety

“A great deal needs to be done but the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan is not a standalone plan. While health remains a Member State competence we need to be able to do more at EU level and to succeed with this Plan we will all need to work together.”

She said the Plan, due to be unveiled in December, aims to “plug the gaps in cancer care” and “give access to better care.”

“It is evident that cancer is a huge public health issue for Europe which weighs heavily on healthcare systems. That is why we need to do more.”

She believes the Plan will offer an “opportunity to deal with cancer more effectively”, adding, “This concerns all of us because there are not many families who have not been touched by this disease.

“But governments cannot do it alone: we all have a part to play and that is why I welcome the parliament’s initiative in setting up this committee. It can mobilise a multi stake approach and reach out to citizens.

“But patients must have a place at the table where decisions are being made so they can better understand their role in preventing cancer.”

Kyriakides added, “This is a defining moment for cancer in Europe. The issue is a priority for [European Commission President] Ursula von der Leyen and, I know, for parliament. We have the chance over the next few years to change the realities of cancer in Europe and we cannot afford to disappoint on this.”

“The expectations are huge but, as Coronavirus has shown, we cannot win this battle alone.”

French Renew Europe Group MEP Veronique Trillet-Lenoir, parliament’s rapporteur on the cancer dossier, outlined her priorities for the new committee’s work, saying she wants it to “push for a reduction in inequalities” in access to cancer care.

“The Beating Cancer Plan is very positive, as is the creation of this committee. We are on the right track and both are good news for cancer patients but if Member States do not see this issue as a priority it will be hard to implement the Plan”  GUE/NGL Group MEP Katerina Konecna

She said the aim was a 40 percent cut in cancer cases EU-wide but, to achieve this, better cancer screening campaigns were needed along with more equal access to affordable medicines.

She told the committee that “cancer treatment is not all about drugs” and that cancer therapies were still unequal “from one country to another and from one region to another”.

“All cancer patients rightly expect to have the same access to treatment but this is not the case. Cancer patients should not suffer from double punishment which is what is happening now.”

Further comment came from Belgian EPP Group member Cindy Franssen who called for “a 360 degree approach” to tackling all aspects of cancer.

She said, “Put patients first, yes, but we must also remain realistic. There is no point to keep talking about the ‘fight against cancer.’ This fight is already fought by patients; it is up to us policymakers to give the best possible support to this.”

Franssen said she also wanted to know how “the mental health side of cancer” will be embedded into the EUs Beating Cancer Plan.

Romanian Renew Europe Group deputy Nicolai Stefanuta said, “Commissioner Kyriakides has spoken about accredited screening but only 10 percent of women in Romania get screened for breast cancer. In the Nordic countries this is 90 percent and the EU average is 58 percent.”

He also voiced concern at funding allocated to the cancer plan, saying, “€2bn has been allocated to this we need much more than this.”

Socialist Group member Nicolas Casares noted, “It is clear that a cancer plan will not be effective if it’s just a set of disconnected proposals. We also know the critical role of pollution in cancer prevention so want to know how the Plan will address this.”

French ID member Joelle Melin said, “Europe has been overwhelmed by the Coronavirus crisis but we must ensure we don’t undermine national healthcare systems. Protect the public, yes, but don’t impose laws on Member States especially if they contradict their own competency in health.”

French Greens member Michelle Rivasi said, “There are three million cancer cases diagnosed in Europe every year and there is a cancer epidemic so the EU’s Plan is very important.”

Polish ECR member Joanna Kopcinska highlighted the plight of children who have cancer saying, “We have to address the longer term consequences, so it is urgent to invest more time and energy on child cancers.”

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