The Czech plan to beat cancer (Guest blog)
The publication of the Czech Republic’s National Oncology Plan in June was a landmark moment for cancer care in our country. It comes at a crucial time, inspired by the Europe Beating Cancer Plan and given political momentum by the NextGenerationEU recovery plan as well as the Czech Presidency of the European Council which began in July.
At the same time, the comprehensive strategy is very much a homegrown document, tailored to the unique strengths of the Czech health system and designed to address gaps identified by a wide range of stakeholders.
It is the first official plan of its kind. For almost a decade, the closest thing we had to a national cancer strategy was an oncology plan devised by the Czech Oncology Society. Their expert input was vital in the development of the new National Cancer Plan which also benefited significantly from several rounds of consultation with patients, scientific societies and industry. The Ministry embraced an open approach which helped to deliver a more holistic document, with buy-in from the groups who will deliver the plan as well as those who will use cancer services.
Crucially, the plan comes with the backing of the Ministry of Health. After several years of discussion, a final push to complete it came from the NextGenerationEU fund which required the government to set out a reform programme with measurable targets. And, with the Czech Presidency of the EU making cancer screening and inequalities a top priority in health policy, it became a political imperative. Demonstrating leadership in oncology policy was vital ahead of this month’s cancer conference in Brno.
So, what is in the Czech National Cancer Plan? The plan is built around four strategic goals:
- Prevention: Extend cost-saving cancer prevention measures, including screening and HPV vaccination.
- Patient-centricity: Put patients at the heart of oncology care, ensuring a more personalised system in which the money follows the patient.
- Modernising care: Ensure that the oncology system is effective, well connected and digitised.
- Access to innovation: Continue to improve standards of care through modern technologies and treatments, including medical therapies, radiotherapy, surgery and state-of-the art follow-up care.
Each of these priorities comes with a series of key performance indicators to allow the government and stakeholders to measure success and identify any shortcomings that might arise. We look forward to the publication of Action Plans for each of these goals which will add further detail on how and when each component will be delivered.
It is reassuring to see that the 70-page document comes with a budget of €18 billion Czech crowns (approximately €730 million) which ensures that the strategy is about implementation not just aspiration. And we are heartened by the commitment to embrace good practice in areas ranging from multidisciplinary care to online platforms which have played a vital role in care delivery during the pandemic.
The Czech plan is also strong on haematological cancers, thanks to input from a leading specialist, and on rare cancers which shall be central to the forthcoming European Rare Diseases Plan that will be advanced during the Czech EU Presidency.
Along with these specific goals and targets is a recurring theme: patients must have access to the best cancer prevention and the most modern treatment regardless of where in the Czech Republic they are based. Each patient should receive a treatment plan tailored to their needs, rather than following the one-size-fits-all approach of the past.
One of the strengths of our system is the top class centres of excellence which bring together leading cancer specialists and the best available technology. This model is working well, delivering real progress in cancer outcomes and making us a leader in Central and Eastern Europe.
The challenge is to link this to regional clinics and local primary care systems so that we all have an equal chance to avoid or recover from cancer, whether we are living on the edge of a rural town or near a university hospital in Prague.
We also continue to put the spotlight on improving access to innovative treatments ‒ the Czech Republic should strive to catch up with our neighbours in Austria and in Germany. People with cancer cannot and should not wait for the best care.
Time to deliver
The Czech National Cancer Plan was quite a long time in the making. Now, with a comprehensive and forward-looking strategy ‒ backed by measurable targets ‒ there is an unprecedented opportunity for a once-in-a-generation drive to deliver one of the best oncology systems in Europe.
It is vital that we build on progress to date, and sustain momentum during and after the Czech EU Presidency. We are confident that through continued stakeholder collaboration, and with a laser focus on our shared mission to beat cancer, this plan can transform cancer care for all.