20 April 2022

Advocacy group calls for national cancer navigation pilot

Cancer Cancer care coordination Patient care

National cancer advocacy group All.Can Australia has called on both sides of federal politics to make an election commitment to fund a national cancer care navigation pilot. 

They say it would ensure more Australians received support as they navigate the health system following a diagnosis of cancer, regardless of the cancer type.  

The call follows the release of research by All.Can Australia and Healthcare Management Advisors (HMA) that concluded that a universal cancer care navigation model for all Australians might be able to deliver multiple patient, health system and economic benefits. 

Professor John Zalcberg, co-chair of the All.Can Australia steering committee and editor of Oncology Republic, said a more integrated approach to cancer care navigation would make it easier for those diagnosed with cancer to navigate Australia’s complex health system.  

“The efforts to investigate a single model that can benefit all Australians diagnosed with cancer has the potential to transform cancer care delivery,” said Professor Zalcberg, who is also head of the Cancer Research Program at Monash University.  

“This report helps to take our work to the next step, as now we potentially have a solution to tackle this. While the economic analysis of our research shows strong return on investment, it is the ability to better utilise existing services and create better connectivity that will make a huge difference to patients.” 

According to a survey undertaken by All.Can in 2018 of Australians with cancer, patients experience significant confusion and distress when moving through the health system. In contrast, patients with access to cancer navigation, were better able to overcome barriers to care 

The research estimated the annual cost of a national cancer care navigation service would be $56 million. This estimate came from data provided by Rare Cancers Australia, the Queensland Nurse Navigator Service and the McGrath Foundation, who deliver comparable support services. 

Researchers also estimated the proposed model would generate net annual economic savings of: 

  • $67 million to the health system, through reductions in inpatient care and emergency department presentations 
  • $5 million to workplace productivity by reducing employee absenteeism 
  • $3 million in reduced patient-education expenses for not-for-profit organisations 
  • $7 million in reduced transport costs for patients 

Professor Zalcberg said a pilot program would need to be run somewhere in Australia to test the model, and there had been approaches to the federal government before announcement of the 21 May election. 

“We were hopeful that they might fund the pilot in the budget, but that didn’t occur,” he told Oncology Republic

“So now we’re hoping that both Liberal and Labor parties might consider this further. We think a pilot would be ideal in, say, Tasmania, but the ACT would be another option. 

“There are various options that could be considered but we see a lot of opportunity to pilot this to learn what works and what doesn’t. Learn how you can scale things. Learn how much has to be people-based versus IT-based versus both, and just see how this would look if we’re rolling it out nationwide.” 

He said they estimated that a 3-5-year pilot would cost about $20 million, which would include a formal evaluation and cost-effective analysis. 

Professor Zalcberg said a national navigation plan would benefit all patients with cancer, no matter how rare, and regardless of whether the patient lived in a city, metropolitan area or remote part of the country. 

“This is not about one tumour versus another – it’s about anyone with cancer,” he said. 

Bill Petch, CEO of the National Asthma Council Australia and co-chair of the All.Can Australia steering committee, said the establishment of a new cancer care navigation model couldn’t occur in isolation and needed to factor in existing services.  

“Our model has been designed to drive equitable access to cancer services, but an important consideration of our approach has been to make the best use of existing resources to address a critical unmet need,” he said. 

“Patients have long shared their feelings of disempowerment within our current health system. The adoption of a patient-centric and technology-driven navigation model could help address the multitude of unmet needs Australians with cancer face, including inequitable access.  

“Our focus and investments should really be aimed at a singular solution that has the potential to meet the needs of all Australians now and in the future.” 

Cancer Care Navigator Analysis 2021

Patient insights on cancer care: opportunities for improving efficiency 2019, online 23 July