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New vision for post pandemic cancer care

A new report released today by Cancer Australia has outlined the impact of changes to cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic and identifies practices and strategies that can support the provision of high-value cancer care to patients into the future.

“The approach to cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic has required balancing the risk of exposure to, and harm from, the virus against the benefits of treatment and use of our healthcare resources, while maximising the outcomes for patients,” said Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO, Cancer Australia.

“As a result, we have seen unprecedented changes in cancer care across the patient’s care pathway and in many parts of the oncology sector. Some of these new or modified healthcare practices will be of long-term value in improving quality and resilience in cancer care.”

As Australia goes through the stages of recovery from the pandemic, Cancer Australia has been considering, in consultation with leading cancer experts and people affected by cancer, what has changed because of COVID-19 and how to best retain and build on those high-value changes in cancer care which improve patient outcomes and optimise use of health system resources.

“This new report, COVID-19 Recovery: Implications for cancer care identifies twelve elements of cancer care which changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some examples of changes include new ways of accessing medical care such as telehealth, a new emphasis on accessing oncology Hospital in the Home, and changes to how we deliver radiotherapy.”

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented uptake in telehealth. Cancer Australia’s recent national report states that between April and June 2020, about a third of GP consultations were conducted via telehealth with the vast majority of those conducted via telephone.

“Cancer screening programs including breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening, continue to be of vital importance for the early detection of cancer, while hospitals and multidisciplinary care teams have been introducing flexible models and strategies to ensure that patients receive the care they need.”

“We are reconsidering how to deliver best practice cancer care in the wake of what we have learned from the pandemic at a system, health service, health practitioner and patient level, to improve patient care for the long-term,” said Professor Keefe.

The report also identifies the responsiveness of patient support; innovative shared follow-up and survivorship care models; virtual supportive and palliative care; the impact on cancer research and clinical trials; and increased collaboration in the oncology sector during the pandemic.

The new COVID-19 Recovery: Implications for cancer care report builds on the extensive COVID-specific body of work undertaken by Cancer Australia since the beginning of the pandemic in March, 2020. This includes advice for people affected by cancer, a conceptual framework for management of cancer in a pandemic, a library of the latest resource articles and clinical guidance, data analysis, and consumer awareness campaigns for a wide range of communities  including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.