Queen’s Professor launches plan to address devastating impact of COVID-19 on cancer across Europe

Professor Mark Lawler, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast and Scientific Director for DATA-CAN, the UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer, has today (Wednesday 18 November) launched a European-focused ‘7-Point Plan’.

Close up view of a virus

The Plan will urgently address the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people with cancer.

The plan has been unveiled at the 2020 European Cancer Summit where European and global leaders highlighted the profound impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on cancer across Europe. 

Recognising the challenges faced by the pandemic, the European Cancer Organisation established a Special Focussed Network on COVID-19 and cancer, bringing together leading experts from across Europe.

The Network, led by Professor Lawler and Dr Mirjam Crul, Head of Aseptic Compounding at the Amsterdam University Medical Centre and Vice-President of the European Society of Oncology Pharmacy, convened an expert stakeholder group including patients, health care professionals, scientists, and industry representatives, fast-tracking the delivery of a ‘7-Point Plan’.

Professor Lawler has urged crucial attention is needed, not only to restore cancer services, but to build back better, and smarter, for the benefit of European citizens and cancer patients. Speaking at the Summit, Professor Lawler said: “We now have concrete data that shows the life-threatening impact of COVID-19 on our European citizens, patients and services, with hundreds of thousands of cancer diagnoses being missed and cancer treatments being delayed or postponed. This could potentially result in many thousands of lives being lost across Europe as a result of this pandemic.

“We need to have accurate data in real time to best combat this crisis, otherwise we risk missing the vital intelligence that allows us to diagnose cancer earlier when treatment is more effective. The 7-Point Plan that we propose must be implemented. Otherwise, cancer will regrettably become the Forgotten “C” in the fight against COVID-19. If that happens, we seriously risk a cancer epidemic across Europe, undoing in less than ten months, the progress we have made in improving cancer outcomes in the last decade.”

Dr Crul said: “Living, working and cooperating with so many exhausted colleagues at the frontline of fighting COVID-19, we were determined that our 7-Point Plan should give serious attention to the enormous workforce and product shortage battles presently being fought. We have talked about medicines shortages for long enough now. With a forthcoming ‘European Pharmaceutical Strategy and Beating Cancer Plan’, it is unacceptable that we continue to avoid taking concrete steps. We must build a new world for international health cooperation after 2020 and the work towards that should already be starting.”

At the Summit, Professor Lawler proposed a resolution to support the immediate implementation of a 7-Point Plan, which was unanimously supported by the European Cancer Organisation’s membership. The Plan proposes the following urgent recommendations to National Governments, the European Union, WHO Europe and others to:

1. Urgently address the cancer backlog

2. Restore the confidence of European citizens and patients in cancer health services

3. Tackle medicines, products and equipment shortages

4. Address cancer workforce gaps across the European continent

5. Employ innovative technologies and solutions to strengthen cancer systems and provide optimal care to cancer patients

6. Embed data collection and the rapid deployment of cancer intelligence to enhance policy delivery

7. Secure and sustain deeper long-term European health cooperation as a key learning from the crisis

Commenting on the initiative, Queen’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Greer said: “COVID-19 has had a significant impact on us all. But it is heartening to see the leadership that Queen's researchers have shown in addressing this once-in-a-lifetime challenge. This 7-Point Plan on COVID-19 and cancer that Professor Lawler has launched today represents a real opportunity for European citizens and patients. I am proud that Queen's is once again leading the way in addressing the global challenges of our society."

Margaret Grayson, Chair of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum said: "From a patient perspective, it is critical that our voice is heard, to ensure that cancer is not ignored during the fight against COVID. The data that Professor Lawler and his team at Queen's have shown is very concerning, making the need for rapid action essential. The 7-point plan provides a clear roadmap that ensures that the patient's needs are addressed immediately in this critical time.”

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