Oncology Care in Germany after the Federal Elections: Changing Perspectives?

Today’s guest blog comes from Dr. Gerd Kraeh, Senior Director Government Affairs at Lilly Germany.

As communities are getting older and the quality of healthcare keeps improving, fighting cancer is becoming a major public health goal. Germany, faced with an ageing population, is taking this challenge seriously. In recent years, a number of policies aimed at improving oncology care and treatment structures have been implemented, culminating in a National Cancer Plan.

Yet the new German government’s coalition agreement shows that a lot of work remains to improve oncological care. We at Lilly Germany do our part by supporting decision makers in finding appropriate measures to improve access to high-quality therapies. Challenges at both the local and federal level are engaged by connecting politicians, patients, healthcare providers and thought leaders. And as we experienced once more in the last weeks, the difficulties for policymakers and local healthcare communities are caused by similar underlying issues.

What do patients and healthcare experts expect from politics to improve oncology care?

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In June, Lilly Germany hosted two events on oncology policy. We accompanied MP Dr. Roy Kuehne on a visit to an oncological care centre and a discussion with local patient support groups in his home constituency of Goslar, in the Harz mountains. Meanwhile in Berlin, we were joined by Dr. Johannes Bruns, General Secretary of the German Cancer Society, and Dr. Til R. Kiderlen, managing director of the Vivantes Clinical Cancer Center Berlin, to discuss policy options for improving oncological care with policy advisors of Members of the German Bundestag.

While it may not seem obvious at first, these very different groups found themselves facing the same issues. To begin with, both groups raised questions about how to increase access to care and interdisciplinary cooperation. In Goslar, the local medical experts criticized the restrictive reimbursement policies of health insurers discouraging them from using new cancer therapies recommended by medical guidelines. In Berlin, Dr. Bruns also pointed out that this behaviour limits both the effectiveness and quality of cancer care. Approaching both HTA and prescription with a broader view would benefit patients by allowing better access to new treatment options. In addition, via improved data sharing between cancer centres and outpatient care, patients could gain access to higher quality oncology care and at the same time generate valuable data for cancer research.

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The second issue centred on the necessity for patient empowerment and patient centricity. As long-term survival rates increase, questions like workplace reintegration become more important. These developments are simultaneously changing the demands on healthcare professionals, social security providers and the labour market, not to mention the impact on society. Because they often find it difficult to return to their former workplace, cancer survivors suffer a higher risk of poverty. Besides medical reasons, this is also caused by inflexible working conditions and little cooperation by social security providers.  As the number of cancer survivors grows, we need to address such barriers to social participation and social security.

With the various layers of German cancer policy in view, Lilly Germany will continue to be a part in the debate for better healthcare and to further the discussion on newly arising as well as persisting issues. All the while, the primary guideline in policy debates remains our focus on patient preferences and needs. Our policy work centres not only on improving access to care, but also to improve the possibilities of participation for patients and survivors. Our engagement of new topics like workplace integration and participation shows that we are on the right track – bringing politicians and experts together for a policy environment that always puts patient needs first.