New plan to expand delivery of care to cancer patients

Sue Anne Mclachlan Oct 2020

A five-year strategy plan has been launched by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM) to help broaden the scope of care available to cancer patients.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Australia and despite strong progress in detection and treatment, access to cancer services is still not fairly distributed throughout the local community.

A focus on improving the equity of access for disadvantaged groups in St Vincent’s catchment area was recently unveiled in the hospital’s Cancer Services Strategy Plan. These groups include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, regional Victorians and prisoners.

“Caring for the poor and vulnerable is at the heart of what we do at St Vincent’s and part of our Mission statement,” says SVHM Director of Oncology Sue-Anne McLachlan.

“This is our population and if the cancer outcomes are poorer here, then we really need to do something about that.”

Responding to growing needs

Another key focus of the plan is to sure-up stronger referral pathways to St Vincent’s to make it simpler for patients to navigate.

Dr McLachlan believes this move will help grow and develop cancer-care services, especially in under-represented areas.

Extending the care outside the hospital walls will also create flexibility for cancer patients who want to be cared for at home, as well as educate families in aspects such as palliative care.

It even opens up the possibility for some support services, such as rehabilitation, to be provided in-the-home or at a local gym.

Through this plan, telehealth will become more accessible for patients in regional areas, along with patients opting for at-home care. It will enable them to see specialists at SVHM for parts of their treatment without having to travel each time to the hospital.

“Because of COVID we have been propelled into action and mobilised telehealth in an extraordinary way, which is actually helping us implement our strategy more quickly than first thought,” Dr McLachlan says.

“Our aim will be to do as much as we can closer to their home before they have to come in, which will be easier on the patient physically and emotionally and increases the capability within the region in terms of what they are able to do from a care perspective.”

Paving the way

Research-driven clinical practice will become a priority under the new guidelines to promote better health outcomes and to enhance the experience for patients living with cancer.

Currently about 20 per cent of SVHM’s admissions are cancer patients.

“With cancer, research drives everything we do, so embedding research in our clinical practice means patients will gain access to innovative treatments and ensures we practise in an evidence-based way,” Dr McLachlan says.

There will be scope to conduct some of these research trials remotely from the hospital, she explains, which will assist in broadening the clinical pool.

“Some of the procedures can be done via telehealth, so people in regional areas and even parts of outer Melbourne will be able to participate more readily now,” Dr McLachlan says. “We will be able to monitor them this way, too.”

The Strategy Plan was 12 months in the making and developed in consultation with SVHM staff, educators, researchers, support teams, and external stakeholders including key partners, government agencies and consumers.