Risk Factors

COVID-19 hits oncology ward

In a tragic but not totally unexpected event given the spread of COVID-19, several inpatients and staff on The Alfred’s  oncology and haematology ward have tested positive for coronavirus.

Three of the patients have died and the other two other patients from the ward have tested positive and remain in a stable condition, while 10 staff have the virus and are recovering at home, according to a hospital spokesperson.

People who had contact with the patients have been notified and have been isolated in line with current health advice and guidelines.

A full investigation, including contact tracing, is being undertaken.

Alfred Health chief executive Professor Andrew Way said the situation was distressing for the staff, patients and families involved.

“It is important that we complete the contact tracing to truly understand what has happened, and I appreciate how upsetting this is for everyone involved,” Professor Way said.

“This situation highlights how devastating the virus can be for vulnerable patients. I urge the community to follow health advice and to self-isolate if they’re unwell. We need to act now to protect those at risk in our community.”

No other information including the impact on staffing is currently available from the hospital.

However the deaths highlight the risks for cancer patients and the urgent need for sharing of knowledge and resources amongst health professionals as they deal with a new threat to their patients.

To that end, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) alliance and Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium have launched the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN) – a new collaborative platform to encourage and facilitate “professional discussion, information and support” for clinicians managing cancer patients during the pandemic.

Professor Grant McArthur, executive director of the VCCC, told the limbic that the VCCN would be providing valuable clinical support to the health workforce during a time of significant uncertainty.

“Management of cancer is complex and we want to make sure no patients falls between the cracks, throughout Victoria and beyond, as best as we can by providing a clinical support network.” 

He said enthusiasm across the cancer community in supporting the new network had been fantastic.

“It’s amazing how quickly people are coming together. To be able to have a peer-reviewed range of ideas at this point in time is really important for clinicians and for patients.”

“It’s a challenging time for the whole world at the moment, but I am predicting that Australia will be able to get through this at least as well as anywhere else.”

He said there was obviously a huge need for information with about 1,000 people participating in the Network’s first webinar on the critical issues facing management of cancer patients. 

The VCCN is governed by an expert multidisciplinary taskforce and will tap into the extensive knowledge held by individual clinicians, departments, institutions and patient advocacy groups across Victoria, Australia and internationally.

Membership of the VCCN is open to health professionals working with cancer patients in Victoria and elsewhere in Australia.

[This story was updated on 3 April to reflect increasing case numbers].

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