Three significant events coincided in 2020 to bring about the stimulus I believe will have lasting impact on our efforts to overcome cancer together.
We celebrated the completion of the Strategic Research Plan 2017-20. This was a milestone rich in achievements and new insights that are being incorporated into future work.
COVID-19 confirmed that we are only as strong as the weakest part of our health system. As we endured the disruption caused by the pandemic, gaps and failings were revealed alongside strengths and opportunities.
The pandemic highlighted our value as a collective impact organisation as we rallied our efforts around a common agenda, sharing data and communicating broadly through the framework of the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN). The current circumstances demand that we continue to support optimal and consistent care for people with cancer with data showing a disturbing drop in diagnoses, screening, appointments, and procedures.
Throughout, our staff and the alliance community never lost sight of the urgency of the work we are doing and set about creating the shared agenda and goals for the next step—change in research-led, consumer-engaged, cancer education, prevention, detection, treatment and care.
Strategic Program Plan 2020-24
We consulted more broadly than ever before in a process that was consumer-led and purposefully aligned with the Victorian Cancer Plan 2020-24. Experts from 35 organisations contributed to the new strategic program plan to guide us to 2024 and beyond. In November, we received news that the Victorian Government would support the plan with an investment of $27 million over three and a half years.
Our plans are ambitious and outline priorities and themes to focus efforts on key gaps, needs and opportunities in cancer control across the whole care pathway, taking a statewide approach.
Launching the VCCC Alliance Strategic Program Plan 2021-24. (L-R, row by row): A/Prof Kylie Mason, Prof Grant McArthur, Ms Sophy Athan, Prof Andrew Roberts, Prof Sanchia Aranda AM, Prof Maarten IJzerman, The Hon Martin Foley MP.
The government’s support will enable us to build on our achievements and branch into new priorities. We will continue to focus on translational research and greater options for cancers with lower survival rates. And we will embark on an ambitious program of work to identify and address inequity within patient outcomes especially inequities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by cancer.
Impacts on all fronts
At the intersection of our past and current strategic plans we can take great pride in so many achievements.
Telehealth and teletrials rocketed up the agenda with a new relevance and awareness to reduce the gap between patients with cancer in regional and rural areas and their metropolitan counterparts. Much strategic effort was vindicated and supported by an increase of funding in this area with an $18.6 million grant to Border Medical Oncology Research Unit and Regional Trials Network Victoria for the ReViTALISE Project to bridge the metro-regional trials gap by 2025.
Workforce capability is an important driver in transforming clinical trials and there is widespread engagement in alliance-initiated programs. Strategic partnerships and expansion of our clinical trials internship program were major achievements.
The 2021 SKILLED Internship Program Study Coordinator Intern cohort.
Complex and meticulous work to enable access to clinical trials among adolescent and young adults is contributing to system change.
Our data-driven research program is successfully incorporating expertise and guidance from clinicians, scientists, academics and technical experts specialising in the use of large-scale linked data for research.
During the year we transitioned our education program online and increased the frequency and diversity of programming with webinars addressing the challenges of the pandemic. We launched a new Cancer in the Older Person massive open online course. We celebrated our first Master of Cancer Sciences graduates and nurses were effectively integrated into our drive for research-led improvement.
Our consumer engagement toolkit became a central reference point not just in cancer but across the health sector. Consumer representatives were involved in all expert steering groups and played a key role in setting the objectives of the programs that form the VCCC Alliance Strategic Program Plan 2021-24.
None of these outcomes would have been possible without the efforts of so many from within the alliance and beyond it.
I thank them for their hard work and dedication throughout the year and I am grateful to our members, the Board, our staff and our partners for their ongoing commitment to the vision of the VCCC Alliance.