Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network and Taskforce

Collaboration and unity in the face of a pandemic

In March 2020, the VCCC Alliance and Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium formed the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN) to empower health professionals to support each other to deliver optimal care for people with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Victorian Integrated Cancer Services and Cancer Council Victoria are key collaborators in the initiative.

As the indirect and unintended consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and its management continue, the VCCN is playing an important role in leading, advocating and coordinating responses, as well as supporting the cancer workforce.

VCCN X MAS 2020 respite

Members of the VCCN taskforce A/Prof Zee Wan Wong, Peninsula Health, A/Prof Sue-Anne McLachlan, St Vincent’s Hospital, Prof Grant McArthur, VCCC Alliance and A/Prof Phillip Parente, Eastern Health.

The taskforce, co-chaired by Professor Grant McArthur, Associate Professor Sue-Anne McLachlan (St Vincent’s Hospital), Associate Professor Zee Wan Wong (Peninsula Health) and Associate Professor Andrew Haydon (Monash Health) has 21 expert members. This diverse group includes consumers, patient advocates, ethicists, senior Department of Health representatives, general practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, and representation from Cancer Council Victoria patient information and support services.

Clinical issues identified by the taskforce inform the key decision-making committees in the state government through the Clinical Directors Expert Group and the Cancer Nursing Expert Group.

Making a difference

Involvement of the Victorian Chief Medical Officer in the taskforce and VCCN representation on the COVID-19 Clinical Leadership Expert Group have provided an opportunity to advocate and influence at the highest levels of state government and ensure alignment of VCCN activity with directives and activities in other disease areas.

The VCCN has over 800 registered members and as the pandemic progressed its activities have reflected changing needs.

Key achievements include:

  • Delivered 10 COVID and Cancer webinars to 1,662 members of the medical workforce and public covering workforce health and wellbeing, infection control and patient support.
  • Three social media public education campaigns to address key issues at various points of the pandemic:
    • Safe Cancer Care and a follow up Cancer Care Never Stops campaigns addressing declining cancer diagnoses and encouraging people to seek health care when needed, with a combined total reach of 450,000 people. The latter featuring animations translated into five languages.
    • Got Cancer? Get Vaccinated campaign addressing misinformation about the safety of COVID19 vaccinations for patients with cancer, with a reach of more than 220,000 people
    • Social media push to support Department of Health to inform patients with cancer of their priority the vaccine roll-out, reaching more than 200,000 people
  • Regular network newsletters reaching 800 subscribers with average opening rate of 42 per cent
  • A multi-site research project into telehealth experience and acceptability amongst patients and clinicians across eight Victorian health services and four non-government organisations.

VCCN contribution

In addition, a number of research papers were published, and surveys and analyses undertaken to inform actions around workforce wellbeing and resourcing, as well as advocacy on visitation and other significant issues. The VCCN Taskforce, Clinical Directors Group and Cancer Nursing Expert Group continue to meet to identify and tackle subjects that continue to arise as a result of the pandemic.

“The VCCN network has made a genuine contribution to the cancer response to the pandemic with benefits to the cancer workforce, patients and the community.” - Professor Grant McArthur.

“It filled a void and has ensured some cohesion across cancer health services, giving confidence and support on multiple levels.”

A member survey at the end of 2020 indicated that 86 per cent saw on ongoing role for the VCCN or an equivalent entity, even beyond the pandemic - rising to 100 per cent for members in regional areas.