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07 Apr 2021
2021 04 April

VCCC Executive Director's Message April 2021

  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

2020 a year half empty or half full?

For some, it may feel as though we can put some distance between the uncertainty of 2020 as we enjoy current freedoms. These past weeks, I’ve heard many people say that they didn’t fully appreciate how deeply they had been affected by the events of last year and it’s taken time to process all that has occurred.  

I am personally very grateful to those who have contributed so proactively to the COVID-19 Cancer Taskforce. We have just marked the one-year anniversary since the VCCN was formed. It became a vital forum where we were able to speak openly about the challenges faced during the most difficult periods. I know I’m not alone in having a sense of satisfaction and pride in our ability to work together to solve some of the most urgent issues for patients. Unfortunately, new challenges continue to emerge. As anticipated, in this next phase of the pandemic we find ourselves in the early stages of increased demand for cancer services.

This demand trajectory comes amid large backlogs in elective surgeries, staff shortages and resignations, and medical supply chain issues, placing new demands on an already stressed system and workforce. At the same time, VCCC alliance academic and research members continue to grapple with re-setting priorities and a changing funding landscape.  An ongoing commitment to supporting each other will be crucial as we continue to deal with the fallout. It is worth remembering that friends and colleagues will be among those who will rely on flexibility and understanding for some time yet, and that we need to look after each other.

Collaboration technologies here to stay

As we begin to plot a recovery strategy, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconfigure aspects of our health system well overdue for improvement and investment. Even before the COVID crisis, the CSIRO’s Future of Health report, identified the health sector has an opportunity to innovate beyond wellness treatment and towards managing health and wellbeing to improve the health outcomes of everyone in Australia.

During 2020 we witnessed a massive shift to working and learning remotely and we found the ability to log in from almost anywhere is yielding considerable benefits for an alliance such as ours. Our regional and metropolitan workforces have shifted closer and we’ve been successfully collaborating across tumour streams and locations, all while reducing our carbon footprint, removing cost, and saving time. The comparative ease of this shift tells us that collaboration technologies are here to stay, and further digital and data-driven opportunities await us.

The opportunities these new dynamics present will be central to the messages I take to Canberra later this month as the cancer sector comes together to begin the process of looking at priorities for a national cancer plan. I have been invited to present on opportunities and needs in research and data and will be tapping into the knowledge and wisdom across the alliance and our partners for input so that I can communicate the key priorities for transformation. Please contact me with any thoughts you may have. 

Forward momentum in ten strategic areas

Under the guidance of our steering groups we are now refining our Strategic Program Plan 2021-2024, ahead of an official launch in July. It is a bold and targeted roadmap that focuses on pivotal opportunities for improving health outcomes for patients with cancer. Within the plan are strategies for the routine inclusion of genomics as part of clinical testing, and programs to link clinical, biological, genomic, and patient outcomes data to enable discoveries that will help bring us to a new era of tailored care of cancer patients.

Highly trained workforce to meet demand

Building a workforce that is equipped and capable of delivering these evidence-led innovations is critical to achieving our goals, and this is particularly true when it comes to reducing the disparity in outcomes for patients in rural and regional Victoria. It was fantastic to meet with the Minister for Employment, Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, The Hon. Jaala Pulford last month, to discuss our future plans in this area and success to-date in creating new, highly-skilled jobs, especially in clinical trials.

There is no better evidence of this than the achievements of our SKILLED Clinical Trials Internship program, a partnership with MTPConnect’s $32 million Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) initiative. Nine study coordinators and 12 clinical trial assistants have been mobilised across both regional and metropolitan sites after completing an intensive orientation at the VCCC.

In other celebrations of excellence in our field, the 2021 Picchi Award for Excellence in Cancer Research is open for applications and I strongly encourage PhDs in our member organisations to apply for these career-boosting prizes. You only need to look at the list of past winners to feel inspired.  Finally, next month we will host a special event to introduce the inaugural graduating class of the Master of Cancer Sciences to showcase their cancer research projects.

Prof Grant McArthur
Executive Director