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Seven point plan to stop cancer being a casualty of the COVID pandemic across Europe

18th November 2020

DATA-CAN’s scientific lead, Professor Mark Lawler, has today launched a 7 point plan to urgently address the impact of COVID-19 on cancer across Europe at the European Cancer Summit.

DATA-CAN’s scientific lead, Professor Mark Lawler, has today launched a seven point plan to urgently address the impact of COVID-19 on cancer across Europe at the European Cancer Summit.

Professor Lawler, who is Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast, co-leads the European Cancer Organisation’s Special Focussed Network on COVID-19 and cancer, along with Doctor Mirjam Crul, Head of Aseptic Compounding at theAmsterdam University Medical Centre and Vice-President of the European Society of Oncology Pharmacy.

In the seven point plan, the European Cancer Organisation proposes the following urgent recommendations to national governments, the European Union, WHO Europe and others to:

  1. Urgently address the cancer backlog
  2. Restore the confidence of European citizens and patients in cancer health services
  3. Tackle medicines, products and equipment shortages
  4. Address cancer workforce gaps across the European continent
  5. Employ innovative technologies and solutions to strengthen cancer systems and provide optimal care to cancer patients
  6. Embed data collection and the rapid deployment of cancer intelligence to enhance policy delivery
  7. Secure and sustain deeper long-term European health cooperation as a key learning from the crisis.

Launching the plan at today’s Summit, Professor Lawler presented data that show the calamitous impact of COVID-19 on European citizens, patients and services, with hundreds of thousands of cancer diagnoses being missed and cancer treatments being delayed or postponed, putting many thousands of citizens and cancer patients  at risk of excess death from cancer over the next decade.

He highlighted the need to have accurate data in real time to best combat this crisis, saying, “If your data is 3, 6, or even 9 months old in some cases, it’s like trying to fight COVID-19 and cancer with one hand tied behind your back. There is no excuse any more for not making our cancer data systems much more real time and data more available. I exhort our European leaders to free the data from their silos and the shackles of bureaucracy.”

Emphasising the need to build back better, Doctor Crul said,  “Living, working and cooperating with so many exhausted colleagues at the frontline of fighting COVID-19, we were determined that our seven point plan should give serious attention to the enormous workforce and product shortage battles presently being fought. Enough is enough. We have talked about medicines shortages for long enough now. With a forthcoming European Pharmaceutical Strategy and Beating Cancer Plan, it is unacceptable that we continue to avoid taking concrete steps. We must build a new world for international health cooperation after 2020 and the work towards that should already be starting.”

Commenting on the initiative, Pete Wheatstone, Chair of the DATA-CAN Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Group, said, “Cancer does not wait for a pandemic to be over. The importance of having the very latest data to provide the evidence about what is happening NOW in diagnosis and treatment services rather than what happened several months ago simply cannot be overstated. Our Patient Group fully supports this seven point plan on cancer and COVID-19.”  

Prof Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said, “The seven point plan is very welcome in our quest to combat the widespread direct and indirect harms of COVID-19. Lack of collaboration and data sharing culture has jeopardised our response to the pandemic. Only through international partnership working will we create a powerful knowledge base that brings benefits to patients living with or at risk of cancer during COVID. This collaborative approach to data sharing and open science is essential for this and future pandemics.”

“The seven point plan that we propose must be implemented,” said Professor Lawler. Otherwise, cancer will regrettably become the Forgotten ‘C’ in the Fight against COVID-19. And if that happens, we seriously risk a cancer epidemic across Europe, undoing in less than 10 months the progress we have made in cancer outcomes in the last decade. And nobody, but nobody wants that.”

Download the paper here – European Cancer Organisation: The Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer in Europe: The 7-Point Plan to Address the Urgency and Build Back Better