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Using data to level the playing field of cancer treatment and care

I often receive letters or emails from patients and family members who have been diagnosed with or are in some way affected by a cancer diagnosis. The most moving are from people in countries where - due to economy, circumstance or infrastructure – they’re unable to get access to drugs and treatments that have been authorised by the European Medicines Agency and are available in other EU countries.

In my role as Director of the European Cancer Patient Coalition, I often receive letters or emails from patients and family members who have been diagnosed with or are in some way affected by a cancer diagnosis. The most moving are from people in countries where - due to economy, circumstance or infrastructure – they’re unable to get access to drugs and treatments that have been authorised by the European Medicines Agency and are available in other EU countries, sometimes their direct neighbours. Just a few kilometres away, people with the same cancers are receiving the kind of treatment they are denied.

My mission is to find a way to make sure that just because you are born and live in one European country, it doesn’t mean that your prognosis of living with cancer should be different to another’s.

That’s why projects such as the FutureProofing Healthcare Index, for which I have been a consultant, are so essential. The project has not been about assessing huge amounts of data to see who’s better than who. Rather, it’s to take the data and try and level the playing field.

If our goal in healthcare is to save lives – and really there can be no greater imperative – then it’s our duty to learn from each other, to see what is working well in one country and assess whether it can be replicated in another. Equally, we need to be honest and robust in analysing the deficiencies in other countries and provide solutions based upon others’ successes.

We need to create more sustainable healthcare systems so that wherever you live in Europe you can have access to the best treatment, while caregivers and families enjoy the same rights and protections.

So the Index, while not fool-proof, provides a fantastic excuse for organisations like the ECPC to nudge- to nudge governments, stakeholders, hospital management to view things through a different lens, share best practices and perhaps seek changes that can provide sustainable benefits in decades to come. It is also a platform from which to push for greater advocacy at national and European levels and to encourage conversations and debate.

We need to advocate for change but we can’t change what we can’t measure. The Index provides an unrivalled series of measurements with which our national members can go to governments across the continent, as well as the European Parliament, and say this is what needs to change and here is the evidence to convince you.

Those changes won’t happen overnight. Indeed, change does not always happen simply because people such as myself, or any of the multi-stakeholder networks that we are a part of, want it to. Change happens because the data show us that it has to happen – and that it can happen, despite economic constraints.

The Index can inspire decision-makers to focus on reducing waste and inefficiency – cancelled appointments, better use of radiotherapy machines, more cost-effective drugs, more innovative tender processes. All of which allow us to become more sustainable and then reinvest in better breast cancer screening.

These kinds of changes can save lives if we learn which countries are doing them well and which poorly, by amassing and analysing the data. That is why the Index is so important – and why it is vital that we build upon it to construct a series of recommendations that will ensure a more sustainable and efficient future, across Europe rather than just in certain countries.

Certainly, investment is crucial – when there are fewer resources, it is usually inevitable that healthcare systems will suffer. But the positive results of such investments are sometimes difficult to determine. System efficiencies, personal lifestyles, cultural factors – these and many more issues come into play, which is why data become so crucial.

Data can show us who succeeds and why- which nation, geography, hospital, department even team is performing at their most effective for the benefit of patients.

It’s why the Index is so valuable to all of us who work in healthcare, either on the frontline or amongst political and fiscal decision-makers. If we can see what works and are able to analyse why it works, then we can create healthcare systems that can better serve society now and for generations to come, not just for those suffering from cancer but across a range of conditions.

It’s why I’m proud to be part of this grand data vision, to analyse where in Europe the best healthcare systems operate. The aim is not to create a top-to-bottom league table with prizes for the best performers but to learn who is making progress and why they are performing better than other countries.

That way, those who lag behind can be given the help they need. In the same way that those people who write to me should be able to find help no matter where in Europe they reside.

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