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10 Nov 2022

Equity at its core: finalising the Australian Cancer Plan

  • VCCC Alliance
  • Cancer Australia

The Australian Cancer Plan will unashamedly focus on equity in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, says Chief Executive of Cancer Australia, Professor Dorothy Keefe.

The draft plan, which is now out for consultation, focuses on achieving world-class outcomes and experiences for all Australians, Prof Keefe told the COSA 49th Annual Scientific Meeting in Brisbane.

Gail Garvey, Professor in Indigenous Health Research, University of Queensland said the plan is a great opportunity to “really significantly make a difference to the cancer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“Eliminating racism is at the core of the issues before we can look at services and other aspects of someone moving across their cancer journey,” Prof Garvey told the conference.

“We need to change the culture of the system, we can’t do that unless we put racism right at the front.”

“We need to ensure that as we progress through finalising the Australian Cancer Plan, looking at implementation and monitoring… that we listen to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The cancer mortality rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over time - the gap continues to grow. What we are doing now is not working, so all of our hope is in the Australian Cancer Plan,” she said.

Prof Garvey said there were no Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander oncologists and only three surgeons. She said many were trained in nursing but there were less than five in nursing cancer care across the entire country.

“We can make a massive difference if we change the workforce scenario and have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in cancer care,” she said, adding that dedicated funding was required but this action could “immediately make a difference”.

Cancer consumer and former BBC journalist Deborah Henderson said she was in the least disadvantaged group, living 10 minutes from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne where she received CAR-T therapy. “What is happening in our indigenous communities is shameful, absolutely shameful. I’ve survived when so many haven’t. I’ve become passionate about equity for all.”

Associate Professor Dion Forstner, radiation oncologist and COSA President Elect said there are huge challenges around implementation. “We want safe, equitable, coordinated care that is accessible,” he said.

The draft Australian Cancer Plan is out for public consultation.

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