Brussels (Brussels Morning) The COVID-19 pandemic has put EU action around healthcare under a spotlight with now more interest in a more unified approach with greater information-sharing, no better demonstrated by the EU4Health programme — Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan — along with the creation of a new Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) in the European Parliament.
Although, until recently, there has been little coordination in healthcare, which needs to change.
Every year, 3.5 million people in the EU are diagnosed with cancer, while 1.3 million die from the disease. Cancer care and treatment have become a European public health priority and eminent under the European Commission’s health remit. With over 40% of cancer cases classified as preventable, it is imperative member states are supported to guarantee all EU citizens have access to effective cancer care and prevention.
Several EU initiatives have paved the way and underpinned EU action in cancer prevention and control. These initiatives, including a European Parliament Resolution on combatting cancer in the Enlarged European Union and Council Recommendations on cancer screening in the EU, have highlighted the need for a joint EU approach.
The European Commission in early 2021 will publish Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan centering on four pillars: prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care.
Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan aims to reduce the burden of cancer for patients, their families, carers and medical staff. The plan will also focus on cancer-related inequalities in and between member states. Plans to support, coordinate and complement member states’ efforts will also be addressed.
In addition to the Commission’s forthcoming Europe Beating Cancer Plan, the European Parliament has also strengthened and focused its efforts in the fight against cancer.
Among one of several new Parliament Special Committees, the Special Committee on Beating Cancer was established in September 2020.
The BECA committee is specifically tasked with assessing opportunities for concrete EU action, outlining legislation and other measures to help fight and prevent cancer. The BECA committee held its constitutive meeting in September 2020 and will sit for 12 months.
The formation of the BECA committee enables MEPs, nurses, doctors, researchers and patients to come together to formulate a set of concrete recommendations for member states and EU institutions to strengthen our resilience against cancer.
Adopting a holistic approach, the BECA committee aims to gain perspective and strengthen action at all stages of the disease.
Thus far, BECA committee hearings have focused on comprehensive information on how to support cancer research in relation to strengthening prevention, diagnosis, treatment and innovation, the most common causes of cancer related to lifestyle factors such as tobacco and alcohol use, nutrition, physical activity, prevention strategies and the correlation between the environment and the risk of developing cancer.
Going forward, the BECA hearings will focus more on patients and their caregivers. The committee will examine what needs to be done to address health inequalities and ensure equal access for all EU citizens to screening, diagnosis and treatment, no matter where they live.
The BECA committee will produce a working document representing Parliament’s input towards the Commission’s Beating Cancer Plan. The engagement of the BECA Committee and the upcoming publication of the Commission’s Europe Beating Cancer Plan are efforts determined to achieve a more coordinated and common framework for treating cancer in Europe.
Throughout the past year, we have witnessed the severe impact COVID-19 has had on our health systems. The various restrictions have caused cancellations and delays to cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care services.
This disruption has resulted in a huge backlog in oncology care. Despite this, COVID-19 has demonstrated that the EU is stronger when member states act together. The EU has been central in purchasing vaccines for COVID-19, exhibiting the strength of European solidarity during this health crisis.
Cancer is not the only health crisis we face, and we must focus on practical and coordinated measures the European Institutions can take in tackling future health challenges.