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06 Oct 2022

Executive Director's Message, October 2022

  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital
  • University of Melbourne
  • Austin Health
  • Royal Women's Hospital
  • Cancer Council Victoria
  • Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions

A world-class Parkville precinct to benefit all Victorians

I was thrilled yesterday to welcome the Hon Daniel Andrews MP, the Hon Jaala Pulford MP and the Hon Ben Carroll MP to the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre to make the second major health funding announcement in as many days.

On Tuesday we welcomed the announcement of the biggest hospital infrastructure project in Australia’s history, with massive upgrades to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Royal Women’s Hospital and the construction of a new Arden medical precinct.

Yesterday, the Government – together with the University of Melbourne – announced further investment in the future of biomedical research facilities as part of the redevelopment of the Parkville precinct, with the total investment of $5-6 billion set to have lasting impacts for patients with cancer in Victoria and across the country.

The Parkville project will see the establishment of the Victorian Digital Health Command – delivering first-class virtual care to more Victorians, a new dedicated Clinical Trials Centre and a new medical and health sciences school.

I was particularly pleased to see this renewed focus on digital health, which has been so effective at maintaining healthcare for people during the pandemic. The teletrials approach to clinical trials established by the VCCC Alliance, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and our partners is one clear highlight in research applications.

The opportunities for further collaboration both within and beyond the precinct with this scale of investment are incredibly exciting, and we are committed to leveraging the benefits of a world-class hub for all Victorians touched by cancer.

Best cancer survival for all

In Victoria we are privileged to have amongst the best cancer survival rates in the world. However, in regional Victoria, the 5-year survival rates for cancer, whilst improving in recent years, remain behind those of metropolitan Melbourne (69% v 71%). This equates to more than 200 excess deaths every year for regional Victorians.

Personally, I really feel discomfort at this difference and inequity. A 2% difference does equate to very significant numbers of Victorians, with major impacts on families and loved ones.

I am delighted to see the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership developing a theme of research on disparities and inequities. I am very pleased to be personally involved in this effort and look forward to sharing data and learnings with you as it develops. We can learn from jurisdictions around the world and share our own learnings as we tackle inequity head-on.

Turning the tide for regional Victoria

I have been greatly encouraged by the gains we’ve delivered through our leadership in driving teletrials implementation to increase access to clinical trials for patients in regional and rural Victoria. We’ve successfully established a framework for teletrials, with the first study using that framework delivering internationally practice-changing results.

The SKILLED Clinical Trial Internship Program – now into its fifth year – was created to address a workforce shortage in the clinical trials sector, particularly in the regions. What the SKILLED Program has achieved for patients in Northeast Health Wangaratta – a health service which serves more than 90,000 people – in such a short space of time is remarkable.

Another important innovation is our partnership with the Regional Trials Network (RTN), helping to facilitate trials across the state, while our early work establishing the Victorian Teletrials Collaborative alongside RTN, TrialHub (based at Alfred Health) and the clinical trials team in the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, promises to increase promotion and adoption of clinical trials by more Victorians.

Our Cancer Councils leading the way

Fortunately, when it comes to tackling regional inequity head-on, we are not alone.

Our Cancer Councils right across the country are exceptional organisations in their own right, but we are so fortunate here in Victoria to have such a fantastic, world-leading organisation in Cancer Council Victoria (CCV).       

It’s been wonderful to see our two organisations working side by side across so many areas, particularly our complementary leadership during the pandemic through the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network and associated public health messaging, our work together in clinical trials, CCV’s strong contributions to our education program – particularly Master of Cancer Sciences subject Cancer in Society – and more recently our joint support of the international cancer benchmarking partnership.

CCV also has a history of investing heavily in research and patient support.   The direct role in patient support has been particularly important during the pandemic, and it is so pleasing to see more regional Victorians using CCV services than ever before. The 13 11 20 cancer nurse hotline, the linking and expansion of practical support services – regardless of location – and investment in digital support tools have all proved invaluable for regional patients navigating a cancer diagnosis amidst the impacts of COVID-19.

But perhaps CCV’s most important contribution when it comes to our ability to deliberately address regional inequity is its world-leading cancer registry, which provides such a clear and comprehensive overview of the state of play in Victoria.

A lasting legacy in education and training

In closing, I want to pay tribute to three University of Melbourne staff members, who have each made substantial contributions to our work in delivering innovative education and training over several years.

Our ability to keep Victoria’s cancer workforce at the cutting edge by delivering impactful education relies heavily on buy-in from our members, particularly the University of Melbourne, and I want to thank John, Stephen and Marilys for their wonderful dedication to education at the VCCC Alliance.

  • Professor John Prins, Head of the Melbourne Medical School and member of the VCCC Alliance Cancer Education and Training Advisory Committee
  • Professor Stephen Trumble, Head of the Department of Medical Education
  • Professor Marilys Guillemin, Associate Dean Learning and Teaching

Congratulations also to the many recipients of MRFF grants who were recently announced. I take great pride in seeing such a spread of talent across our members being recognised for their terrific work, and I commend each one of you on your success.

Professor Grant McArthur
Executive Director

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