The recent drop in active COVID-19 cases in Melbourne is fantastic news, particularly for the respite it gives for those at the forefront of the pandemic response. I really want to acknowledge our partnership with MPCCC and a magnificent team of cancer specialists, administrators, patients, patient advocates, academics and government representatives who generously gave their time and expertise to the VCCN Taskforce and Network during the challenges of the past few months.
A special thank you is also due to the Victorian Cancer Registry (VCR) for the data of statewide cancer notifications enabling us to mobilise recovery initiatives in cancer clinical, workforce and research domains. I was delighted this week to attend the launch of the VCRs annual report “Cancer in Victoria - Statistics and Trends 2019” that continues to highlight great progress in cancer outcomes, whilst also indicating challenges that lie ahead. These data will be vital going forward to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 on cancer in Victoria.
Support for patients
As VCR data indicates an increased cancer caseload coming through, the VCCN is now directing efforts to catch up on cancer; to mitigate some of the effects of delayed diagnoses and to be ready for an increase in cancers, notably prostate, colorectal, melanoma, head and neck, and breast cancer. The Victorian Cancer Plan 2020-2024 released in September communicates some key recommendations that align with many of the observations and experiences we have had over the past six months.
COVID-19 has taught us some powerful lessons, and some areas of reform have been identified to improve the consistency and equity of care and resources across cancer services statewide.
The pandemic highlighted that collection and access to quality data is essential to support cancer service improvement. It is anticipated that Symptom and Urgent Review Clinics (SURCs) for patients undergoing chemotherapy will be one of the key resources in managing the anticipated surge in cancer cases in coming months. Clinics can help to lighten the load on hospital emergency departments and have proven their worth in assisting patients to feel safe and supported closer near to where they live. Improved telehealth models of care will also have a greater role to play in the future of cancer care.
Support for cancer workforce
The expected surge in cancer diagnoses and advanced staged presentations is likely to also impact the oncology nurse workforce. The VCCN Taskforce has established an oncology nursing expert group to examine the impact and make recommendations to address the impact on nursing service capacity. Supportive care services such as physiotherapy, social work and psychology will also need to be resourced and ready to cope with additional demands. The number of cancer patients experiencing financial hardship during their cancer treatment is expected, so issues of accessibility and equity are firmly on our agenda.
Value of strategic collaboration proven
While this COVID-19 response has demanded attention, VCCC leaders and staff have also had their eye on the long game as we finalise the evaluation of the VCCC Strategic Research Plan 2016-2020 (SRP) and plan for the next chapter for our rapidly evolving alliance.
On behalf of the VCCC alliance members, I was delighted to table the final SRP report to the Department of Health and Human Services last month. It is a hefty read, rich in innovation and successful collaborations. Specifically, it outlines the activities and impact of the VCCC alliance over the past four years. It covers a lot of ground, from impacts in Australian cancer research, the expansion of clinical trials, education and capacity building to ensure we have a world-class cancer workforce, and the structures and processes required to translate research discovery into clinical care for patients faster.
As the first strategic collaboration of its kind in Australia, the VCCC alliance continues to reach beyond traditional boundaries and barriers to ensure Victoria is home to one of the preeminent cancer systems in the world today.
Prof Grant McArthur