Senior MEP urges against ‘competition’ between cancer and COVID-19 patients

German EPP member Peter Liese, a medical doctor, was speaking at the first meeting on Monday of Parliament’s new cancer committee.
Cancer cells

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Oct 2020

Liese’s comments come with cases of Coronavirus once again surging throughout Europe, with fresh fears of healthcare systems being inundated with patients as was seen at the start of the outbreak, particularly in Italy and Spain.

This led to concern that other patients, such as those with cancer, were staying away from hospitals and missing out on getting vital treatment.

Liese told the committee, “Please, let us not have a competition between Coronavirus and cancer patients and that is why efforts to limit the spread of the virus, for example, clamping down on parties, is so crucial.”

“We are currently in a very dangerous situation and, once again, doctors may have to decide if they treat Coronavirus or cancer patients. We can avoid this from happening by limiting the spread of the virus.”

He said, “If we can avoid this, it will allow our healthcare systems to also focus on treating cancer patients and protecting those patients who are most at risk.”

Another member of the new committee, GUE deputy Kateřina Konečná also raised similar concerns.

“We are currently in a very dangerous situation and, once again, doctors may have to decide if they treat Coronavirus or cancer patients. We can avoid this from happening by limiting the spread of the virus” Peter Liese, EPP

The Czech MEP said, “A lot of cancer patients have been afraid of going to hospital for treatment during the pandemic and have been postponing preventive cancer screening.”

“Hospitals have been flooded with Coronavirus patients, but this situation is very dangerous, particularly if people are postponing early diagnosis and then only get to a doctor when it is too late.”

Both members also backed the creation of the “Special Committee on Beating Cancer”, which has 30 members and will last one year when it will deliver a list of recommendations.

The European Commission is expected to present its “Europe's Beating Cancer Plan” in early December.

Liese said, “It has been difficult to establish this Committee so it is good we can now get to work on the content because everyone unfortunately has experience with the disease.”

He said EPP leader Manfred Weber had lost a brother to cancer and “is one reason why he backs this Committee.”

“A lot of cancer patients have been afraid of going to hospital for treatment during the pandemic and have been postponing preventive cancer screening” Kateřina Konečná, GUE/NGL

Liese said, “I have also lost a very good, young friend to cancer.”

Liese, EPP shadow rapporteur on the Committee, added, “My main message is to put patients at the cornerstone of our work and that is why we must listen to patient organisations in the Committee’s hearings.”

He said, “Some 40 percent of the causes of cancer are still unknown so that is why research is also so important. The number one cause is still smoking; let’s not forget and do something about that.”

Liese added, “We cannot do it all this alone and we should not raise too high expectations of what we can do on the Committee without Member State cooperation. We should make it not just a cancer-only Committee but use it as a benchmark for other diseases.”

Konečná added, “It is clear that not all cancer patients have equal access to diagnosis and this is shameful. We cannot divide people according to their access to treatment. In our work we must also support families of cancer patients, something that is not always mentioned.”

Belgian EPP member Cindy Franssen told the meeting she was “happy to start work on this very important Committee.”

“We must put the patients first in all we do in this Committee. We need a 360-degree approach and a final report that touches on all these topics” Cindy Franssen, EPP

She added, “Its main priorities should include research and innovation so we put Europe in the cockpit of innovative technologies. We must also raise the potential of using e-health and AI on cancer and bridge social and geographical gaps in access to treatment.”

Prevention, early detection and vaccination are “other important topics”, she said, adding, “we must put the patients first in all we do in this Committee. We need a 360-degree approach and a final report that touches on all these topics.”

Special attention, she said, should be on treating young adults with cancer, adding “these people face a future with cancer at an age when they should be partying. These people need a tailor-made approach. We must also increase health literacy so we can help people make the right choices as well as increasing the quality of life for survivors.”

The Renew Europe coordinator on the Committee, Romanian deputy Nicolae Ștefănuță raised the issue of the limited EU competence on health and said, “This should not be a technical Committee, but it should be an assertive and a political committee.”

“If, at the end of our work, we draft a remarkable report but Council shows us empty pockets, it would be a waste of time where we have just produced a report and no results. That is why I ask everyone to think assertively.”

Italian Socialist Alessandra Moretti said the Committee should focus on access to treatment, adding, “This is important and we have got to fight this, but there are many disparities between EU countries on access. We need to resolve this but to do so will need the proper budget.”

French ID member Joëlle Mélin disagreed with Ștefănuță, saying, “we have to be technical so we know what we are talking about.”

She stressed the importance of “diagnosis, treatment and care along with child cancers, adding, “This disease is highly symbolic so we also have to de-dramatise it. We must also respect Member State competence on health; a delicate balance but one we must strike.”

French Greens MEP Michèle Rivasi said the Committee comes at a time of “a true cancer epidemic” with more than two million more cases diagnosed every year in Europe.

She said, “You cannot stress too strongly the value of prevention and this is an EU competence. There are emerging risks such as from chemical and air pollution and electro-magnetic waves. We must pool our knowledge to tackle this.”

She also agreed on the need to focus on child cancers, including tumours and leukaemia, which, she said, are “sharply rising.”

“One of our tasks is to find out why.”

Another member of the Committee, Polish ECR deputy Joanna Kopcińska, said the proposed European Institute for Cancer may have a role to play as it was designed as a “platform  for implementing best standards.”

She said, “the question is how can it offer added value?”

French Renew Europe MEP and oncologist Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, who was elected rapporteur on the Committee, said she hopes it will make an “ambitious and audacious” contribution.

“I share many of the issues mentioned today, including the need for European leadership. We face big inequalities in access to treatment in all countries, including my own, and this is important to me.”

She also backed the creation of a cancer institute, saying, “I support this concept because it could help implement our proposals on things like screenings and best practices. It is also a chance to better inform patients and evaluate the impact of our recommendations.”

Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - EU moves to end Cypriot and Maltese Golden Passport schemes

Categories

Health
Share this page