Public Release: 

The European Cancer Patient Coalition - challenges for the future

ECCO-the European CanCer Organisation

The emergence of cross-Europe policies on health and related issues mean that cancer patients need a voice at European level, said a leading patient advocate at ECCO 12 - The European Cancer Conference in Copenhagen today (Tuesday 23 September). But, according to Kathy Redmond, Editor, Cancer Futures, from Milan, Italy, there are many challenges to be faced in building an effective patient organisation, and the newly-launched European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) will have to consider how best to tackle them.

At a European level it is difficult to define common concerns because of the variability of health care systems, she said. The European legislative system is extremely complicated, even to Brussels insiders, and ECPC will have to learn how to navigate and influence it.

But one of the largest obstacles to patient collaboration at European level is language. "Relatively few Europeans have the same mother tongue, with just over 25% speaking German, and 16% speaking English. Just over 50% of Europeans claim to speak a second language with around 40% speaking English, 10% German, 7% Spanish, and 3% Italian." Additionally, fluency in English as a second language declines with age, Ms Redmond said.

Linguistic difficulties also contribute to the digital divide in Europe. "Given that 70% of the content of the internet is in English, it is not surprising that there is a huge variation in the number of houses with internet access across Europe. In countries with high levels of English fluency such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, around 65% of households have internet access. But in Greece, Spain and Portugal internet access at home is as low as 9%. According to the latest Eurobarometer study, an average of only 25% of Europeans get health information from the internet," she said.

Funding is another problem for patient organisations, and one of the biggest challenges facing ECPC will be to ensure adequate funding to overcome the linguistic divide and to enable the coalition to operate effectively, said Ms Redmond.

"There is a growing political ideology that patients should be involved at all levels of health decision making. Coupled with the increase of consumerism, and the growing freedom to express dissatisfaction with health services, this has helped fuel the patient advocacy movement," said Ms Redmond. "The European Patient Coalition hopes to increase cancer patients' influence over European health policymaking relating to cancer prevention, screening, and the delivery of cancer care. Our ultimate objective is for cancer patients to receive the best possible treatment and care, wherever they live, and whatever form of cancer they have."

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