Progress, momentum and an eye to the future
We are now approaching the halfway point of our Strategic Program Plan 2021-24. Progress is substantial with several of our programs approaching key milestones over the coming months.
There is great potential in our Data-Driven Research Hub which will unlock new ways to deliver research-ready data to researchers, and this will be fully operational in the next few months. Plus, by the end of the year, the VCCC Alliance Centre for Cancer Education, a major new online platform that will greatly enhance access to our education programming, will be open for business.
Simultaneously we continue to make strides in the health equity space with many encouraging outcomes stemming from our work in Regional Innovations, particularly in the expansion of teletrials and the award-winning SKILLED Clinical Trial Internship Program. We have also made significant progress as an organisation in laying the groundwork for a more substantial imprint in equitable cancer outcomes for Indigenous people.
There is much collective wisdom and collaborative effort that goes into these programs so it’s exciting to see the pieces falling into place and meaningful changes taking shape.
Complex, multi-partner programs such as these only succeed when guided by relevant shared goals and other critical success factors. Central to this is intelligent and visionary leadership and a passion to drive change. I’m therefore delighted that two highly regarded, future-focused leaders have been appointed as chairs of our Cancer Research Advisory Committee and Cancer Education and Training Committee. Congratulations to Dr Dishan Herath and Associate Professor David Kok on their respective appointments to these key roles. I am excited to see what they will bring to these influential committees and our achievements going forward.
Tackling cancer care in a COVID-impacted landscape
The current surge in COVID cases in Australia – our biggest yet – has drawn out many and varied emotions community-wide. Among them are frustration, anxiety, resilience, courage, and disappointingly, indifference. While fierce debates over mask mandates and flexible working arrangements dominate the media, the health system must forge on.
Back in March 2020, we established the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network in collaboration with Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium. Almost two and a half years on, the Taskforce is still meeting regularly and remains resolutely solutions-focused in how to best support our patients and our workforce. This month, in the midst of this surge, we are focused on three main things.
1. Alleviate mounting pressure on Emergency Departments
When patient numbers surge, all activities of health services are impacted. The flow-on effects of the 773 people currently hospitalised across Victoria due to COVID are being felt acutely everywhere. Hospitals are unable to move people out of Emergency Departments, waiting rooms are full, Ambulance Victoria has declared Code Reds and there are now serious concerns about the continuity of care in some rural services.
The critical underlying issue is a lack of staffing, and negotiations are underway with our colleagues in the private system for both staff and beds. The Taskforce collated a list of suggestions to mitigate the crisis:
- Symptom & Urgent Review Clinics: expand hours; extend to radiotherapy and post-operative patients; provide access to imaging / pharmacy / pathology
- Expand virtual care; virtual oncology emergency
- Promote existing phone services including Cancer Council Victoria support line
- Hospital in-the Home: to manage low-risk sepsis, neutropenia etc.
- Secure resourcing for communications to patients; absolutely critical that patients are aware of available services
2. Delayed cancer wave now a men’s health issue
There has been significant media attention recently surrounding the cascading missing cancer cases still hiding in the community. The estimated number of undiagnosed cancer cases now exceeds 7,000 in Victoria alone, and these missing cases disproportionately affect men.
In cancers common to both males and females, there are approximately 2,000 cases missing in men compared to around 100 in women. Together with the approximately 2,800 missing prostate cancer diagnoses, these figures represent a major and ongoing men’s health issue with significant ramifications in both the short and long term.
3. Personal COVID Action Plan for patients with cancer
With so many in our community now having been infected with COVID-19, a creeping complacency in communication has resulted in a general lack of awareness of how to deal with a COVID infection. It’s important for all of us to have a plan in place should we contract COVID, particularly so for immunocompromised people, including patients with cancer.
Cancer Council Victoria has prepared a great resource with information for anyone affected by cancer, including tips for planning ahead, symptom management and identification, and what to do if you test positive.
The courage to keep showing up
Finally, I want to acknowledge my colleagues in the health community. The healthcare sector currently finds itself under a level of pressure not experienced by many of us before, and I want to sincerely thank you all for your continued commitment and resilience in the face of such trying circumstances.
It’s no small sacrifice to keep pushing through as the pandemic rolls on, but I’m continually heartened by your companionship, selflessness and dedication.
Professor Grant McArthur