Czech experts: Tackling cancer care inequalities in Europe requires more data

“If we don't have well-built indicators of the quality and effectiveness of care, it can happen that a patient will circulate in the system for a long time and not get timely treatment,” said Marek Svoboda, director of the Masaryk Institute of Oncology based in the Czech Republic. [Shutterstock/Gorodenkoff]

Access to oncology care in Europe is often accompanied by inequalities which can be tackled by better data collection and usage, Czech experts say. EURACTIV.cz reports.

Around 2.6 million people in the EU are diagnosed with cancer every year. While the disease affects all population groups, some face worse access to diagnosis or treatment due to social, economic and other reasons.

According to Czech experts, the availability of relevant, comparable and interlinked data could be a game-changer.

“If we don’t have well-built indicators of the quality and effectiveness of care, it can happen that a patient will circulate in the system for a long time and not get timely treatment,” said Marek Svoboda, director of the Masaryk Institute of Oncology based in the Czech Republic.

In the EU Beating Cancer Plan, one of the flagships of the Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission, reducing inequalities in healthcare is among its top priorities.

Several steps have been already taken. For example, the European Cancer Inequalities Registry is already collecting data on disparities across EU countries and regions in prevention, early detection, access to diagnosis and treatment or quality of life.

Moreover, the burden on society and health systems in each country is also monitored.

The European Commission has also presented a new regulation creating the European Health Data Space, which aims to change access to and use of health data.

Such steps have been welcomed by Czech experts during a May roundtable debate organised in Prague by The Czech Association of Innovative Pharmaceutical Industry (AIFP).

Improvement is possible, the Czech case shows

Oncology care in the Czech Republic has improved significantly in the past 15 years. A country-wide network of cancer care centres has been built, and the Czech Republic has reached the level of Germany or the Netherlands in cancer mortality statistics.

Still, the Czech Republic also faces inequalities, both within regions and between diagnoses, where access to care depends on whether the type of cancer is common or rare.

For example, the commuting distance to cancer centres, the patient’s level of education, social status or membership in a particular insurance company also has an impact.

“What we are missing is a patient guide to the healthcare system. It has to do with health literacy and the activation of the population, not only patients,” said Petra Adámková, chair of the Czech Committee of the Voice of Cancer Patients, adding that her organisation is ambitious to create such comprehensive guidelines.

Experts also see a great opportunity in the forthcoming Czech National Cancer Plan, which should be presented in June 2022. The country has to implement the plan to unlock access to post-pandemic recovery money from the Next Generation EU.

Availability of medicines differs in Europe

One of the most difficult European challenges for the Czech Republic is the availability of modern medicines.

According to a recent analysis by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Companies and Associations (EFPIA), the country ranks 14th in the EU in the availability of new oncology drugs, along with Belgium.

Germany shows the best availability, followed by Italy and Denmark. On the other hand, the worst performers are the Baltic countries and Slovakia.

However, the physical availability of a drug is not the same as its actual availability for a specific patient, which is hampered by various administrative restrictions.

Cancer care has also been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has deterred many people from visiting hospitals and getting regular screening tests.

Cancer screening and prevention will be among the main health topics of the Czech EU Presidency, which begins on 1 July, Deputy Health Minister Jakub Dvořáček confirmed.

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