MEPs Against Cancer Round Table

Equality for Cancer Patients with Cancer and Other Chronic Disease in Europe

Hosted by Nessa Childers MEP

13th November 2012

European Parliament

Brussels, 16/11/2012

‘As similar situations are encountered in the many countries undergoing an economic crisis, there is a need to start a dialogue about the problems in front line cancer care, disability and rehabilitation, which are common for all cancer patients, irrespective of the country where they live in.’

Kathi Apostolidis, Breast Cancer and Patient’s Rights Activist

“What is happening in Greece is an abuse of the fundamental human right to health. If there were proper legislation in the European Union ensuring cancer patient’s proper access to disability benefits and protection in the workplace, it would more difficult for member states to dismantle social security systems designed to protect the well being of their citizens”

Nessa Childers MEP



MAC Vice-Chair Nessa Childers MEP Hosting the November 13th Round Table

Nessa Childers MEP and Olwyn Ryan, chair of the ECL Patient Support Working Group and head of Patient Services at the Irish Cancer Society opened this MAC round table, setting the scene with information about the current status of cancer in the EU and relevant legislation for patients. Every year 3.2 million Europeans are diagnosed with cancer, mostly breast, colorectal or lung cancers[1], and almost half the cancer survivors are under 65. Many of these individuals are willing and eager to return to work after recovery and apply for loan, travel or health insurance.  However, due to the disabling effect that cancer and cancer treatments can have, many patients experience problems returning to work and find themselves unable to return to their original jobs, unless short or longer term measures are taken to accommodate them.

Several cases have been recorded of employers unfairly dismissing cancer patients at the time of diagnosis or during treatment or not allowing enough time off for treatment or rehabilitation. The financial implications of the increasing number of cancer patients are substantial with the economic burden falling not only on health services, but also on patients, their families, and society as a whole.  Due to improvements in the treatment of cancer, not only are survival rates increasing, but many patients are living longer with the illness, which is increasingly classified as a chronic disease.

While some member states have endeavoured to cover the needs of patients with chronic diseases in equality and anti-discrimination regulation, many countries are behind in ensuring that their legislation keeps up to speed with changes in treatments and survivorship. Crucially, this gap also exists at the European level, where only the Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 on employment is able to cover cancer patients with long term conditions. The employment directive is the only piece of existing piece of legislation that can help to protect the rights of cancer patients with long term conditions. However at the point of diagnosis, many people who become patients will not know what their long term prospects are.

As Nessa Childers MEP highlighted, ‘the impact of cancer, especially the issue of fatigue, and the fact that it can lead to a permanent or temporary disability is really not out there.  We need to get this across, not just at a political level but also by generating support in the community.’


Alojz Peterle MEP, Minodora Cliveti MEP, Nessa Childers MEP, Olwyn Ryan, Irish Cancer Society

Minodora Cliveti MEP, a strong advocate for women’s rights in the field of health, iterated that ‘facilitating the return to active life of a woman who has gone through severe, long-term illness represents an important step towards recovery for the individual, but also a significant achievement for the community as a whole.’ Ms Cliveti also talked about gender budgeting as a specific tool for safeguarding women's health, which should be strongly supported by member states in addition to allocating the necessary budgetary resources for prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer, such as breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers, which affect women. Alojz Peterle MEP gave his full support to the meeting iterating that discrimination against cancer patients should be stopped.

The impacts of austerity on sickness and disability benefits across Europe citing examples from Estonia, Hungary and the UK among others was made by Leo Palumbo from the European Public Health Alliance. Ward Rommel from the Flemish League Against Cancer also presented data on the different types of unfair treatment such as high premiums and delays being meted out by insurance companies on people who have been in long term remission. Kathi Apostolidis Breast Cancer & Patient Rights Advocate, PAIR-Patient Advocates in Research, Society for Participatory Medicine, gave a detailed overview of the current situation in Greece where due to cuts in disability benefits, high unemployment and the fact that health insurance and pensions are linked to employment, cancer patients are often too afraid to stop working through their treatment and rehabilitation periods, placing further stress on themselves and their families.


Kathi Apostolidis, Breast Cancer & Patient Rights Advocate



Ward Rommel, Flemish League Against Cancer and ECL Patient Support Working Group Advocate

Patients with chronic diseases should be entitled to legal protection against maltreatment by employers from the point of diagnosis across Europe, regardless of whether their illness is long or short term. Likewise, every cancer survivor should be entitled to fair treatment and scientifically based premiums by private insurance companies.

Emma Woodford, Project and Policy Coordinator for ECL

Follow up

The current situation in Europe is unsatisfactory and discriminatory; we need to tackle this issue via the Employment Committee in the European Parliament and the Irish Presidency’.

Emer Costello MEP 

Nessa Childers MEP agreed to work together with Emer Costello and other MEPs to approach the organisers of the Irish Presidency to see how they could work on this issue. Mrs Childers also agreed to table a parliamentary question to DG Justice about equality for cancer patients in European legislation.

In addition to the MEPs mentioned above, the MAC secretariat would like to thank the following MEPs for their interventions and support to this meeting:

Pavel Poc


Czech Republic 

Antigoni Papadopoulos



Sean Kelly



Marian Harkin



Eleni Theocharous



Nathalie Griesbeck



Liisa Jaakonsaari



Sidonia Elżbieta Jedrzejewska





Full meeting summary November 13th, Equity for Patients with Cancer and Other Chronic Diseases in Europe

Cancer as a Chronic Disease, the case for coverage in EU legislation, Olwyn Ryan, Irish Cancer Society

Impacts of Austerity on Health Care Provision in the EU, Leo Palumbo, European Public Health Alliance

Challenges in purchasing insurance at accurate and transparent premiums, Ward Rommel, Flemish League Against Cancer

EU legislation covering employment and anti-discrimination/equality for cancer patients with chronic diseases in Europe, Emma Woodford, ECL

The Impact of Austerity Measures on Disability Benefits in Greece, Kathi Apostolidis, Breast Cancer and Patients Rights Advocate





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