Australian Cancer Plan focuses on equitable cancer care


A draft Australian Cancer Plan, “unashamedly” focussed on priority groups, is now open for public consultation until 16 December 2022.

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe presented an overview of the plan at the COSA ASM 2022 in Brisbane – just over 18 months from the Ministerial Roundtable in April 2021 which kicked off the development process.

Guiding principles for the plan include a person-centred, equity-focussed, future-focused and tumour-agnostic approach.

“Achieving equity in cancer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is the most significant ambition for the future of cancer care,” the Plan says.

“The gap in cancer mortality rates between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is widening.”

Professor Keefe told the meeting that other priority groups include LGBTQI+ people, people from CALD backgrounds, people living with a mental illness and older Australians.

The plan features 10-year ambitions with two- and five-year goals and accompanying actions.

A panel discussion explored some perspectives on the Plan from key opinion leaders.

On equity:

Obviously there are many vulnerable populations ….but the view I think of many of us is that if we fix if for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we fix it for many of the other disadvantaged groups and ultimately we fix it for people who are at present the least disadvantaged. But we have to fix it for the most disadvantaged. Associate Professor Dion Forstner, COSA president.

For me and for many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were consulted about the Australian Cancer Plan, we see this as a great opportunity to really significantly make a difference to cancer outcomes…we think eliminating racism is really at the core of the issue before we can start to look more specifically at services and other aspects of someone moving across their cancer journey or even in cancer prevention and early detection. Professor Gail Harvey, Professor in Indigenous Health Research at the University of Queensland.

On optimal care: 

I’m probably the least disadvantaged group in Australia. I live 10 mins drive from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne…I think because of my education background, my financial background, I am here when I know so many people who I have met along the way are not. The Optimal Care Pathways… I’m most hopeful that they will help us achieve equity. They are a vital tool. Deborah Henderson, cancer care consumer.

The focus on person-centred care through the cancer journey is incredibly important as well. Over the 10-year period, the Australian population is going to change. Our population is going to have many more older people being diagnosed with cancer and we are looking at optimal treatments but also end of life decisions and palliative care decisions and when do we stop treatments as well. I love that we have this dynamic plan. Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer to the Australian Government.

On innovative application of technology:

Looking at improving our use of data and improving data linkage – I think we’ve learned during COVID-19 how important this is. Our systems and especially sharing between jurisdictions have become a lot stronger over the last couple of years. This plan will benefit from that. I think that new technologies are built in which is very exciting. It allows us to looks at the risks as well as the benefits that come from new technologies.” Professor Michael Kidd.

On workforce:

How do you make sure that nurses and clinicians and researchers have the time and space to do what they do well but have a team around them that is supported to help them deliver that. Yes, the funding streams need to better align, yes we need to have people working at top of scope practice and we do need state and territory government and health services and the university sector all pulling in the right direction. Tanya Rishniw, Deputy Secretary Primary and Community Care, Department of Health and Aged Care:

I need to acknowledge that everyone in this auditorium and the health workforce that we have had working through COVID over the last 3 years, really demonstrates that sometimes the best innovation happens in a crisis. If we have been able to come together nationally through the last 3 years around COVID, it sets a great pathway for us to be able to do that around cancer. Tanya Rishniw.

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