Greek Health Minister Suggests Penalizing Cancer Patients Who Missed Screenings

Greek Health Minister Charges Cancer Patients
A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice July 26, 2012. The Greek Health Minister has come under fire after suggesting cancer patients who miss screenings tests could have to pay for some of their treatment if they are later diagnosed with the disease. Eric Gaillard/Reuters

The Greek Health Minister is facing a backlash from health organizations after suggesting that cancer patients could face fines if they missed screening tests designed to catch the disease earlier.

Panagiotis Kouroumblis, who was appointed Health Minister in January of this year, spoke to the Greek news agency Eleftheros Typos on Tuesday, suggesting that cancer patients could be made to pay 50 percent of the cost of their treatment if they did not consistently attend screenings before they were diagnosed.

The Ministry of Health published a press release on Wednesday in which it revealed that it would be meeting with the National School of Public Health next month in order to design an official screening strategy to combat cancer-deaths in Greece. "We are the only country in the Western Hemisphere without a national screening program," the statement read, although it made no reference to plans to implement fines.

Kouroumblis told Eleftheros Typos in the interview that the screenings will focus on the most common cancers including lung, breast, colon, cervical and prostate. Mammograms and pap-smears would reportedly be mandatory for women, while prostate specific antigen blood tests and prostate exams would be required for men. Both sexes would have access to free colonoscopies and stool tests. "We focus on making the aforementioned exams mandatory and those who are not consistent will be 'punished' by participating in the cost of treatment if they get sick," Kouroublis said.

However, the President of the Hellenic Cancer Center Society (UICC), Evangelos Filopoulos, tells Newsweek she does not believe that mandatory screenings are a realistic proposal for the country. "What he has proposed is a little bit out of common sense. There are not enough funds in Greece to maintain a high level of treatment and diagnosis. We do not have the personnel or the economic means to implement such a huge screening process. I think it is impossible. We can make cancer rates better in Greece if we focus on smoking, obesity and pollution."

Filopoulos said the Minister was afraid of the WHO statistics on cancer in Greece, which showed the country leading Europe in cases of male lung cancer in 2014. Lung, breast, prostate and bowel cancer are the four most common types in Greece according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO affiliated organisation.

The head of the union representing national health system doctors, Dimitris Varnavas, has spoken of his contempt for the suggestions of the fines, telling press that the cancer diagnosis was "enough punishment."