Europa Donna discusses Breast Cancer and Health Economics

No Fireworks –

but lots of audience participation


Aren’t you getting tired of Cameron, Lansley and all telling us that European healthcare is better?

You want to tell them SHUT UP


Well, Europa Donna is an organisation that is quietly getting on with doing something about it.

At their latest meeting in London Prof. Karol Sikora of CancerPartnersUK was in fine form, giving an informative, up-to-date and sometimes provocative talk to their packed meeting.

Welcomed by Dr. Margaret Spittle, Chairman of their UK Forum, many of those in the audience remembered that nearly two years ago, Europa Donna were one of the first organisations to come out in the open with a debate on the latest findings on Breast Cancer Screening.

They gathered together Prof. Laszlo Tabar, a Hungarian based in Sweden, and carrying out rersearch supported by the American Cancer Society, Prof. Michael Baum, the person who was instrumental in setting up the UK’s Breast Screening programme, then – after reviewing new evidence, now questions this.  The meeting was chaired by another professor, Valerie Beral – who almost needed armour for protection.

Because when Tabar and Baum got going, no punches were pulled.  This made for a fascinating debate – but it has taken almost two years for the UK authorities to come up to speed and start asking questions.  see

So when Europa Donna’s UK chapter invited me to another debate, I did wonder if I should pack some pink boxing gloves!

But all was well controlled, although cancer guru Sikora produced a lot of audience reaction.

Patient Involvement

With 46 countries in membership, from Finland to Kyrgystan, Europa Donna runs a course for Patient Advocates every year in Milan.  There they gather together patients from all their member countries, to train them how to advocate on behalf of other patients.  The Advocates then go back to their own countries and speak on behalf of fellow patients;  taking part in training, discussing patient’s care and needs with officials, etc.  And guess which country takes little notice of trained advocates?  Britain.

But this may be about to change. Sikora is known to be keen to involve patients, and during the discussions there was comment that if patients were involved, they would be able to point out where money was being wasted.

Another speaker was Baroness Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, talked about ‘Patient and Public Involvement’, a favourite expression of the Dept. Health;  she asked why were these two roles always lumped together by the NHS?

Patients should be taken seriously, and doctors should realise there was no substitute to taking time to talk to patients.   During meetings, if the patient isn’t at the table, how will providers know what is required?

So there was still room for improvement, although she wasn’t sure the much-vaunted offer of choice “is going to benefit all patients”.  Or will it benefit ” patients who shout the loudest?”  Amongst the audience was Professor Lesley Fallowfield, Director of  Cancer Research UK Sussex Psychosocial Oncology Group.  Her work focuses on improving the quality of life for people with cancer, but echoing Baroness Morgan’s question of benefits of choice, she pointed out that one in five patients’ reading level is that of an eleven year old.  She suggested  “we should improve health literacy at school”, and this is where Europa Donna’s Patient Advocates could be usefully employed.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the powers-that-be will think about actually doing something to bring our standards of cancer care up level with European standards – and this meeting left the audience with plenty of points to ponder.

There was no doubt that at the Advocates training course I was invited to attend, there were discussions on what is cost-effective;  as one delegate told me, when asked to imagine what gold-standard mammography services would be, “we only have one machine in my country”.

But involve patients, and not only might services improve in the UK, but the NHS could find sensible ways of saving money.

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