Coordinating Victoria’s cancer response to COVID-19
In March 2020, the MPCCC and the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre joined forces to lead a statewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with collaboration from Cancer Council Victoria and the Victorian Integrated Cancer Services.
The Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN) provides a framework that supports cancer health professionals and service providers to quickly adapt to the demands of COVID-19 and to deliver the best possible care for people with cancer.
The VCCN is overseen by a taskforce with representation from metropolitan, regional and rural Victoria, as well as vulnerable groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Members specialise in a wide range of disciplines including:
- medical oncology
- radiation and surgical oncology
- paediatric and geriatric oncology
- primary care
- consumer advocates
- representation from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The VCCN Taskforce is underpinned by a series of expert clinical groups that develop strategies to respond to clinical issues associated with COVID-19 and provide cancer-specific advice to health services and DHHS.
Coordinated communications platforms enable rapid sharing of information, practice guidelines, recommendations and policies. Examples of the issues the VCCN has addressed include:
- implementing telehealth for cancer care
- safe continuation of oncology clinical trials
- recommendations for cancer screening
- primary care processes for rapid referral
- policy for Essential Cancer Diagnostic Surgical Procedures
- pre-operative COVID-19 testing
- palliative care in the home
- managing workforce wellbeing
- an ethics framework to support difficult decision making
- distress caused by hospital visitation policies
- community health campaigns ‘Cancer Never Stops’ and ‘Don’t Delay’
- key learnings for future COVID-19 management
- opportunities for cancer healthcare reform.
The VCCN has been made possible by funding from the Victorian Government.
Safe Cancer Care campaign
‘The first few months of the pandemic raised lots of clinical challenges for breast cancer, including the temporary suspension of BreastScreen and treatment referral delays as Victorian women put off seeing their GPs and stayed at home.’
Dr Jane Fox
Chair, Breast Cancer Expert Group, VCCN; Director of Breast Services, Monash Health
‘The Essential Cancer Diagnostic Surgical Procedures policy adopted by the DHHS in June was a direct response to concerns from within the cancer sector about service interruptions caused by COVID-19 and the impact that this would have for both our community and the health system.’
Dr Andrew Haydon
Co-Chair, VCCN; Medical Oncologist, Alfred Health; Joint Clinical Director, SMICS
‘Some of the new practices that have come about due to COVID-19 have created new models of care and efficiencies that will likely result in longer term improvements to cancer care, such as telehealth, beyond the pandemic.’
Associate Professor Zee Wan Wong
Co-Chair, VCCN; Chair, Telehealth Expert Group, VCCN; Director of Oncology, Peninsula Health; Joint Clinical Director, SMICS
‘In recent months, healthcare workers have confronted the need to balance duties to their patients with duties to their families and friends, and to balance preserving the wellbeing of their patients with preserving their own wellbeing.’
Dr Toby Winton-Brown
Consultant Psychiatrist, Alfred Health
‘The Safe Cancer Care campaign that was developed through the VCCN will help to support patients in continuing their cancer care without anxiety.’
Chair, Patient Information and Communications Expert Advisory Group, VCCN; Head of Strategy and Support, Cancer Council Victoria