Patients with cancer living in regional and rural Victoria experience several disadvantages including a lower survival rate (65 per cent compared to 69 per cent in metro areas) and barriers to clinical trial access (time, cost and social disruption), compared to patients living in Melbourne.
The VCCC works with the Regional Trials Network, Victoria, to explore challenges and produce opportunities for the regional clinical trials workforce, including improving business acumen, building skills and experience, as well as new delivery approaches.
Leading strategic programs for regional patients
The positions of VCCC Regional Oncology Leads were introduced to fortify resources, develop capability and capacity, and implement strategic planning.
Dr Craig Underhill was appointed Regional Oncology Lead in October 2017, with Associate Professor Ian Collins appointed Regional Oncology Deputy Lead.
Dr Underhill is a medical oncologist, Director of Oncology at Albury Wodonga Health and Clinical Director of Hume Regional Integrated Cancer Services. Associate Professor Collins is a medical oncologist at South West Oncology and Clinical Associate Professor at Deakin University.
As highly experienced specialists, Dr Underhill and Associate Professor Collins are aware of the gaps and unmet needs related to cancer care in regional Victoria. The Regional Oncology Leads play a pivotal role in actively participating in programs of work, representing the regional cancer community to expand clinical trials, foster education opportunities, as well as improve partnerships and networks.
Clinical trials go digital to increase regional access
Providing patients living in Victorian regional areas with equitable access to clinical trials is a key requirement. The VCCC Teletrials Program will use telehealth technology to connect regional and metro clinical collaborations.
The aim is to reduce access burdens, such as cost, time and social disruption, experienced by regional patients when participating in cancer clinical trials. Teletrials provide an opportunity to overcome disparities; avoiding the need to travel, enabling access to new treatments and improving patient outcomes.
Upskilling and increasing workforce capacity
Clinical trial units are complex, relatively autonomous business entities embedded in hospitals or private units with little access to professional development opportunities.
Executive directors and managers from regional centres have been participating in a VCCC-run business development program to improve financial management and create operational efficiencies. Increasing workforce capacity has included the introduction of internships, creating a career path for science students, and access to remote learning such as VCCC expert lecture webinars.
Breaking down metro vs regional barriers
Developing relationships and effective systems between metropolitan and regional sites and increasing clinical trial participation across regional Victoria has potential to increase survival rates, and boost workforce capability, opportunities and development.
The VCCC’s Regional Oncology Leads, the Teletrials Program and education opportunities are specifically aimed to increase much needed resources, as well as provide access to clinical trials to people living in regional Victoria.
Representatives of the regional cancer community, including medical clinicians, allied health staff, and patients are actively encouraged to contribute to the VCCC’s programs and activities.