Partnerships in oncopolicy

Wed, 5 Jan 2011

The Belgium-based European CanCer Organisation’s (ECCO) Public Affairs has recently held its first Oncopolicy Forum in Brussels last October 26, 2010, a move that signals the ECCO’s principal goal to act as a catalyst in developing Europe’s oncopolicy and structure the cancer community in the region.

The meeting’s theme focused on “Strengthening Oncopolicy through Partnerships: Unlocking Europe’s Health and Research Potential,” and representatives from various sectors such as clinicians, patients groups, nurses, the pharmaceutical industry, researchers and national decision-makers, amongst others, attended to present their views. Three sessions were held during the day-long event and the discussions took up issues including the current European health and research policy environment, creating effective partnerships, and how these partnerships address inequalities across Europe. The topic for the last session particularly stood out as this involves the crux of European healthcare, i.e., the wide disparities in healthcare systems and delivery across Europe. The speakers have not only noted that these disparities remain in the EU-member countries but that, and more importantly, their impact has a crucial bearing on how patients receive timely and effective treatment.

A classis example cited was the gap cited between regulatory bodies and the decisions emanating from health technology assessment agencies. It was pointed out that decisions take too long, which implies, from the viewpoint of patients, a serious delay in treatment delivery. On the issue of urological diseases prostate cancer was underscored and the discussion centred on research, prevention and early detection. For the EAU this is an area where we can step forward with our input and initiatives since we occupy a frontline role in treatment, research and guidelines creation. Particularly in guidelines work our association has delivered consistent quality work that has the net effect of boosting the level of urological healthcare in many European countries.

What is also remarkable in this meeting is that a platform has been provided for all parties to air out and freely dialogue on the many and complex issues that impact oncopolicy creation in Europe. But obviously bringing to the table the various stakeholders with their individual agendas and programmes is a challenge not only for the organisers but to everyone closely involved in cancer treatment.

Whether the issues concern new approaches for patient empowerment, equity of access to treatments, fostering innovation, cost containment or maintaining and improving the healthcare systems, the bottom line is the readiness of each participant and stakeholder to nurture links through open dialogue and greater transparency.

The ECCO itself has thrown the challenge and posed the central query: In the ever-evolving European political landscape where European actions and local implementation can easily lead to inequalities, are such strategic partnerships the key to achieving equal opportunity in cancer research and access to quality care across Europe?

Without a doubt the reply to this is a clear yes since this approach provides a more effective solution to a health issue that requires a multi-sectoral and disciplinary response. At least a quarter of the oncological diseases are those that involved the urological organs, and thus it is a challenge to our specialty to make known the nitty-gritty issues that we face in our daily practice.

Our specialty may have missed the chance in previours years when it comes to clearly conveying the challenges we faced in our specialty and turf, particularly those that are linked to multi-disciplinary collaboration or the way we define the crucial role we have in uro-oncology. Events like the Oncopolicy Forum provides a fresh start to have our inputsincluded in the main agenda of these collaborative meetings. The first ball has been thrown in the court by the ECCO in its efforts to rally the principal partners in this issue. A crucial element in achieving a robust outlook for our specialty is how we take up the challenge of involvement or collaboration with other sectors, and this implies not a reactionary response but a pro-active stance that rightly anticipates present and future demands.

By Prof. Manfred Wirth