Social partners discuss Pharmaceutical Strategy and Beat Cancer Plan with the European Commission

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(16 November 2020) The European Commission foresees to publish a Beat Cancer Plan and Pharmaceutical Strategy at the end of November. Commissioner Stella Kyriakides responsible for health amongst others consulted the social partners on both proposals. The plans are elements of the EU Health Union proposals published 11 November. 

The Beat Cancer Plan will focus on prevention, on early detection, diagnosis and treatment and quality of life. Trade unions stressed that cancer is the leading cause of work-related death in the EU, accounting for 100,000 new cases and 80,000 deaths each year. This comes with great suffering and with costs for society. The ETUC’s overall objective is preventing and eliminating occupational cancer. Unions want that the Commission continues to update the EU Directive on Carcinogens and Mutagens at work. New Binding Occupational Exposure Limit Values for 25 carcinogens are now included. ETUC has asked to cover at least 50 substances. Together these would cover 8o% of occupation related cancers. New proposals includes limit values for acrylonitrile, nickel compounds and benzene which would protect over one million workers, especially in the manufacturing and construction sectors. 

New substances to have stricter binding limit values are asbestos, Crystalline Silica, Diesel emissions and cadmium compounds.  Introducing the Stop Cancer at Work campaign (you can sign the petition) the EPSU General Secretary elaborated on the demand to extend the  scope of the EU Directive on Carcinogens and Mutagens at work. It should covers substances dangerous to reproduction. Approximately 2 to 3 million workers in the EU are exposed to these reprotoxics. Carcinogens, mutagens and reprotoxic substances share certain characteristics, so the workplace prevention of these substances should be legally organized in a homogenous and consistent manner. The Directive should further include hazardous medicinal drugs, in particular cytotoxic drugs, to reduce the occupational exposure to those chemical agents that may cause cancer or mutations. This exposure causes thousands of additional deaths from cancer and tens of thousands more miscarriages, fertility problems and congenital disabilities each year in healthcare workers, patients and their carers. Almost 13 million health professionals in Europe are occupationally exposed to deadly hazardous drugs, such as cytotoxic drugs. Employer contributions recognized the impact substances can have on workers and pointed out the case for addressing cancers. 

The second part of the discussion focused on the Pharmaceutical Strategy. This will address especially how the EU can assist in developing medicines and to prevent shortages including when there is a pandemic. The trade union side stressed that the EU should have its secure research and production, the importance of which was underlined by the shortages arising during the pandemic as supply lines were cut or countries kept ingredients for themselves.  The union side underlined the need for affordable medicines,  and easy access to medicines. The public authorities should be doing the price setting including for medicines for rare diseases. We stressed the importance of public research and the need for public enterprises to produce medicines without patents and profits so costs can be lower and medicines be made available to all. 

EPSU was part of the ETUC delegation that included the ETUC deputy General Secretary Pelle Hilmersson, IndustriAll-Europe GS Luc Triangle and the EPSU General Secretary. Representatives on the employers side included BusinessEurope, CEEP (public services) and SME united (Small and medium sized companies) It took place 12 November online. 

Stop Cancer at Work
For the Position of the European Parliament on medicines
First EPSU reaction on the European Health Union
For the proposals of the EU Commission on European Health union