OPINION: Political reformscan improve cancer care

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

CANCER is responsible for one in four deaths in the Hunter, but with improved survival rates, there are 50,000 people in the region who are cancer survivors. They and many others feel strongly about the quality of cancer care.

Last week 10 state election candidates from the lower Hunter pledged their personal support for five priorities we have for cancer care that are within the power of state government and will have an immediate impact.

The goal now is to turn personal support into party support, and then legislation.

In NSW, cancer patients in public hospitals may be charged a co-payment for their chemotherapy medicines, while patients in other states are not. NSW can take immediate action so that no patient is charged for chemotherapy by applying an administrative change.

In Victoria, patients requiring chemotherapy are admitted to hospital for the day and are therefore covered under the PBS, funded by the federal government.

In NSW, this would make a significant difference, as almost half of all cancer outpatients have a household income of less than $30,000.

Cancer Council research published in BMC Medicine showed that of the 2.4million smokers in Australia, 1.8million will die from smoking-related illness if they don’t quit.

Reform could involve a licensing scheme for the sale of tobacco similar to the one regulating alcohol sales. It could involve putting a cap on the number of retailers, or a limit on the concentration of retailers around places such as schools. The Upper Hunter local government area has the highest concentration of tobacco retailers around schools in the state.

More Aboriginal health workers are needed to ensure a culturally appropriate service is provided to Aboriginal patients and families.

Aboriginal people are 70per cent more likely to die from their cancer than other Australians, and cancer is often diagnosed much later.

An Aboriginal workforce of 2.6per cent of the total will begin to match the needs of Aboriginal communities and will further enhance the steps already taken by Hunter New England Health.

Co-ordinated cancer care needs to be delivered in a logical, connected and timely manner. Poor co-ordination can lead to a breakdown in communication between service providers as patients navigate their way from GPs to specialists, pathologists, allied health and community supports. Patients report being twice as satisfied with the service they receive when they have someone responsible for co-ordinating their care.

More palliative care services are needed. In NSW there are 0.5 full-time equivalent palliative care physicians per 100,000 people. The recommendation of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine is twice as many; at least one full-time equivalent per 100,000 people.

Some areas of the state, including Maitland, remain without services.

In real terms, an additional 34 palliative care physicians are required to achieve the minimum to adequately service NSW.

Shayne Connell is manager of Cancer Council Hunter Region