Did you know that new research finds that, from now 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with cancer? This new estimate replaces the previous 1 in 3 people figure. In the period 2014 to 2025, the yearly number of new invasive tumour diagnoses (excl. nonmelanoma skin cancer) in Belgium is projected to rise from 67,820 to 79,140, an increase of about 17%. In 2015, 1.3 million people died from cancer in the EU, more than one quarter (25.4 %) of the total number of deaths.
That being said it is also promising that e.g. in the UK’s cancer survival has doubled over the last 40 years and around half of patients now survive the disease for more than 10 years. But, as more people benefit from improved healthcare and longer life expectancy, the number of cancer cases is expected to rise. However, there are always the side effects of any treatment that someone is exposed to: operation, chemo, radio, immunotherapy, pills….
Coming back to work is expected as the colleague is supposed to fully recover within 6 months of time since this is the longest period of the medical part time. There is no formal recognition of all the fatigue, psychological pressure of having already several cancers, side effects from any of the treatment. In fact the colleague at work is very soon treated as “any other” colleague. Moreover, the supporting services (Medical Service, PMO) do not have enough staff to dedicate any specific colleague to the cancer support administration. There is also an informal cancer support group but it cannot provide any support to the different administrative questions that can arise during the sickness and after returning to work.
As presented in our article on disabilities, there is a structural approach towards that group of colleagues. We would therefore suggest following the same logic for the cancer patients colleagues as their number is unfortunately growing. Generation 2004 has prepared some ideas on how to improve today’s situation and would like to work jointly with the Cancer Support Group and the future Staff Committee in order to achieve these goals.
- No single entry point in the system
Colleagues have to deal with different sectors within the Commission at the same time i.e.
- PMO – recognition of the serious illness, prior authorisation, direct billing
- Medical Service – Control department, psychosocial support
Once being diagnosed, the person has to deal with several services at the same time. It is not easy to understand the scope of the administrative work that needs to be done before starting any of the treatment that usually begin within days or mostly weeks from the diagnose. Since not all of the hospitals are equipped with the necessary equipment, the person usually needs to follow-up different exams in different hospitals. In addition the pre-operation exams are not covered under the direct billing and they are carried out in the different hospitals. Therefore the person needs to pay this by himself all these different bills and they can all in all easily spend several thousand EUR (blood exams, echography, CT PET SCAN, mammography, biopsy, etc.) in two weeks’ time.
Once being diagnosed with cancer is a big shock already by itself. Person needs to go through many medical exams to locate the cancer is before having the operation. At the same time person needs to initiate several procedures at the same time. There should be a single entry point (not only the JSIS portal but also a PMO colleague in person) available for the guidance throughout the different procedures. The PMO colleague should be dedicated just for this sort of treatment in order to arrange the administrative work for the cancer colleagues.
- Not all the costs fall under the category of “serious illness”
Once the illness is recognised, the colleague can start sending the bills. However, it is a general impression that all the treatments carried out due to the serious illness would be reimbursed in 100%. This is not the case. There is no reimbursement for any food supplements (during the chemio the person is not able to enjoy food normally and therefore needs to have special food supplements in order to keep food in the body and avoid vomiting), other drugs that are considered as cosmetics but are in regular use in other MS regarding the cancer treatment (ISCADOR), acupuncture, special clothes adjusted to the different shape of the body, etc.
The PMO doctors should revise the eligibility of the costs for the cancer patients. The doctors are only open to the Belgium practices of treating the cancer and not any other options are eligible. It is already complicated enough for the cancer patient to search for second opinions, other options outside Belgium and perhaps even outside his/her own MS. Therefore the EU JSIS should open the eligibility also to other options that exist within the EU or even outside. It should revise the eligibility of the costs accordingly.
- Medical part time up to 6 months
According to the staff regulation the medical part time is only up to 6 months long. Different cancers demand different treatments and leave different side effects to the body. Moreover, different EU institutions treat cancer colleagues differently.
There should be a revision of the implementing rules in order to enable the prolongation after 6 months in any special cases.
- During the sick leave, the sick colleague needs to think and push the button in the sysper “carry over leave”
The days of the annual leave are lost if the person does not think at the beginning of January to go into the sysper and push the button “carry over leave”. The GECO does not inform automatically the sick colleague on the consequences of losing the holidays, as it should according to the implementing rules of the Note.
If the extra days are not used in the 15 months following the carryover, concretely before 31/03 of the following year, the official will automatically lose the entitlement unless service-related reasons can be successfully invoked. The GECOs are asked to inform the person about the existence of this deadline.
The unit where the person is employed should take care of such administration for the colleague on the long term sick leave. They should introduce the “carry over” of the previous leave.
The person on a long sick leave does usually not check the office emails. And the person in cancer treatment can decide to do the treatment in another MS and not Belgium.
Therefore there should also one member in the unit responsible for follow up the HR issues. There should also be an established HR procedure on the arrangement of the communication between sick person, unit, GECO and Medical Service during the sick leave.
- During the sick leave, the sick colleague does the yearly assessment.
The hierarchy is not informed automatically of the correct HR procedures to be followed-up in cases when a colleague is absent during the whole year. The sick colleague needs to inquire himself/herself on the yearly assessment procedure and there is no help from the hierarchy.
There should be one member in the unit responsible for follow up the HR issues and inform the sick colleague upon the requested procedures accordingly.
- Recognition of partial invalidity
There is no such possibility as working 50% part time for some years or even until the pension after the cancer treatment. Moreover, the European Parliament is more flexible on putting their cancer colleagues to “invalidity” than the European Commission is.
The colleague who went through cancer treatment is perhaps not able to work for more than 4 hours for a longer period than 6 months of medical part time. There could be an opportunity to have 4 hours at work and 4 hours of invalidity for the rest of their career. This rule is already applied in some Member States (i.e. Slovenia).
- Cancer patients and recognition of the disability
The cancer colleagues do not have any recognition of any disability. However, the consequences of the cancer or the treatments to the body might be the same as having the disability.
The colleagues who undergone the cancer treatment that still suffer because of the pertinent secondary effects in the form of disability, should be recognised one.
- No indemnity to the colleagues that went through cancer
There is no recognition of the indemnity to be received going through the cancer even though the consequences to the body could be the same as in some cases of the accidents.
The colleagues who undergone the cancer treatment that left behind the secondary effects in the form of disability, the indemnity should be recognised to them.
The whole philosophy about the cancer colleagues is that they should become more stress resilient. However, is the management trained to deal with cancer patients after their return to work or even during their sick leave? Are they able to manage them in a less stressful way? Are all the institutions having only stressful jobs?
More trainings should be organised for the colleagues and for the management in order to manage the stress.
Job descriptions published in Sysper could include the level of stress (eg.1 – 10). A platform including the less stressful jobs could be established where only the colleagues that went through cancer would be eligible to apply.
- Cancer support group
There are several colleagues from the Commission involved in the cancer support group. However, they are not supporting the cancer colleagues regarding any administrative issues but rather grouping them together in organising different events: lunches, walks in the park.
We would suggest adding also the administrative knowledge to the colleagues that can support the cancer colleagues, especially if there will be no reinforcement in the PMO or the medical sector.
 https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/cancer-news/press-release/2015-02-04-1-in-2-people-in-the-uk-will-get-cancer  https://kankerregister.org/media/docs/publications/IncidenceProj2015-2025_finaal_171120.pdf  https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Cancer_statistics  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150203204348.htm