Time is of the essence when it comes to cancer care policy

The World Cancer Congress (WCC) brought together the international cancer community in Paris last week. It was both inspiring and educational. More than ever before stakeholders from national governments, the EU institutions, patient representatives, the industry and healthcare professionals are being held to account for their combined efforts to tackle access to timely and appropriate care for cancer patients.

A key area of shared concern among representatives of some 135 countries at the WCC was the sustainability of health care systems. Prof. Richard Sullivan from King’s College London pointed out that in a number of countries the major problem for achieving better outcomes continues to be the lack of access to basic quality cancer care. There has been a call for a new approach in tackling the inefficiencies of the health care systems and for a more effective allocation of the resources at hand.

Sharing best practice has also a role to help Member States building their national cancer care plans, saving precious time for patients. As Dr. Fatima Cardoso indicated at the launch of the Advanced Breast Cancer Global Alliance, if all the knowledge currently available was put into practice, cancer mortality rates would definitely decrease. Metastatic breast cancer is incurable, but treatable; multidisciplinary teams of specialists have the knowledge to better address the complexity of this disease, the current obstacles and unmet needs of patients with mBC.

Stakeholders need to build on the progress made so far in cancer care. Analysing the value of incremental innovation, Dr. Silvia Paddock presented in one of the sessions a new edition of the Continuous Innovation Indicators (CII) tool to measure cancer progress. The purpose of the CII is to inform public policy discussions and other efforts to accelerate continuous innovation against cancer. The tool can track progress against 12 solid tumours across all treatment modalities and give the historical perspective and the reality of progress in cancer care missing from current value frameworks.

Still on the theme of value and effective use of resources, I found the presentation Prof. Afsan Bhadelia from the Harvard School of Public Health quite to the point. Prof Bhadelia highlighted that one should not ignore the costs of inadequate or delayed care for patients, caregivers, healthcare systems and society as a whole. We need to understand value in order to change the healthcare systems for the better. And for that, patient value has to be at the centre of the policy making process.

We need change, but must bear in mind that looking at cost and value implications requires great change in the healthcare systems themselves. If we look at the statistics there is no doubt that we are out of time and the process of change can’t afford any more delays.