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“It is time to start caring for carers”, MEP Heinz K. Becker


On 19th October 2017, HFE joined the launch event of the White Paper on Cancer Carers, organised by the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) and Eurocarers. Hosted by MEP Heinz K. Becker, the event represented a great opportunity to assess the achievements and shortcomings of the current policy framework with regard to carers and, especially, emphasise their fundamental role for patients, health systems and the whole society.

“I believe in social justice for all, for all generations”, stated MEP Becker (EPP, Austria) as first remark. Cares have numerous responsibilities and need greater attention. They provide 80% of care in Europe but the increasing burden of chronic diseases such as cancer mean that urgent policy action is needed to ensure the sustainability of caregiving. Here comes the imperative to develop a robust policy framework supporting cancer carers, raising awareness on their contribution and vital role, promoting their rights and developing accurate solutions to enhance patient care across Europe.

With populations ageing and cancer prevalence and widespread inequalities increasing worldwide, the White Paper testifies to the relevance of caregiving in patients with cancer and calls for concrete measures to meet carers’ needs.

The sustainability of caregiving depends upon recognition of its value. Across Europe, unpaid family carers and friends are the largest providers of health and social care support. Recognising them provides the Member State with an opportunity to manage the situation of caregiving, rather than be subject to the negative impacts of unsupported caregiving. So far, only twelve Member States have a formal recognition of carers – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK -. Gender inequality, the current lack of information and support around cancers, together with the numerous financial and logistical burdens carers experience every day are additional aspects that need to be urgently addressed.

Mr Piet Van Nuffel, Member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Thyssen, emphasised how carers are essential for the whole society for the maintenance of the health system. The European Commission is thus highly committed to develop adequate social and health policies, and support Member States to achieve affordable, sustainable long-term care. In 2016, the Commission introduced the European Pillar of Social Rights, considered as being one of the cornerstones of health and long-term care systems in Europe. As part of the package of initiatives, it has also developed a legislative proposal on Work-Life Balance of Parents and Carer which includes the introduction of 5 days of paid leave for workers caring for a seriously ill or dependent relative.

Carers need flexible work arrangements, appropriate pension rights, training, psychological and financial support, as well as access to public services and national programmes, along with the full inclusion in a patient’s care team. “They are equal members of the care team”, highlighted Ms Charlotte Argyle, Carers Support Programme Manager at MacMillan Cancer Support. In line with this, all tools need to be deployed to develop integrated health and LTC services centered around the needs of the patient and the carer, encouraging the social inclusion and full integration of carers into the healthcare team.

In her closing remarks, MEP Jana Žitňanská (ECR, Slovakia) pointed out that more communication and involvement among health practitioners and policymakers need to exist at both European and national level. A coherent, integrated approach will mainstream caregiving across all major policy areas, and ensure the due recognition of the significant contribution made by carers to our welfare system and the economy. It is thus clear that providing carers with choice and support will ultimately result in giving people with cancer and their carers a proper quality of life.