EPSU’s comments on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan

STOP Cancer at work campaing logo

(5 February 2021) EPSU welcomes the European Commission’s initiative but more attention should be given to supporting health professionals in their efforts to tackle cancer, to protecting workers from work-related cancer and to ensuring equal access to health care systems.

EPSU welcomes the European Commission’s Beating Cancer Plan, presented on 3 February 2021. In particular, we support the commitment to making Member States health systems more robust and more able to address cancer, and to reducing inequalities of access to cancer related treatment.

Equal access to health is paramount for the prevention and treatment of all diseases. However, this can only be achieved through adequately financed public health systems that put patients’ needs, not profits, first. For many years, EPSU has been highlighting the negative impact of austerity measures, insufficient funding and privatisation of health on equal access to care, including access to cancer treatment. The Commission’s ambitious target of €4 billion  to help Member States address cancer, financed through the EU4Health programme and other EU instruments, is a positive step. We expect Member States to use the funds to strengthen their health systems and health workforce, in order to achieve Principle 16 of the European Pillar of Social Rights: Everyone has the right to timely access to affordable, preventive and curative health care of good quality.

It is regrettable that cancer plan does not pay more attention to workers, in particular the health professionals who deliver cancer treatment, without whom the objectives of the plan cannot be achieved.

More than 100, 000 workers die every year from work related cancer, around 10 per cent of all cancer related deaths in Europe. The plan mentions the proposals on occupational cancer but does not include it as a flagship initiative. The EU should be more ambitious in terms of protecting its workforce, and make the eradication of work related cancer a priority. This is of particular importance for the 12.7 million healthcare workers in Europe, including 7.3 million nurses who are exposed to carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic hazardous drugs.  As the Member of the Stop Cancer at Work coalition, we call for the ongoing revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD) to add carcinogenic cytotoxic drugs, which cause cancer in healthcare workers and patients, to Appendix I, and reprotoxins, which are a risk to workers’ fertility, in the title of the CMD. We made a similar call with our social partner HOSPEEM, representing hospital employers.

Delivering high quality care by qualified care professionals will not be possible without improved working conditions, including higher salaries for health workers and adequate staffing levels. The 2020 report on Skill shortages and surpluses in Europe outlines the significant shortage of health care professionals such as doctors, nurses and health care assistants. The EU urgently needs to do more to make health professions an attractive occupation, in order to ensure the functioning of the health systems and their resilience. This especially important now. After almost a year being on the frontline against the COVID-19 pandemic, health and care workers are exhausted, feel undervalued and many consider leaving their professions.

For further background

ETUC press release

Stop Cancer at Work coalition

The 2020 report on Skill shortages and surpluses in Europe

HOSPEEM-EPSU position on the European Commission study supporting the assessment of different options concerning the protection of workers from exposure to hazardous medicinal products