Today we are unveiling our key priorities ahead of the state election on 11 March, urging a greater government commitment to cancer research, prevention and patient care services.
Our CEO Susan Rooney and Past President and eminent breast cancer surgeon, Professor Christobel Saunders are calling on the next state government to act to reduce the impact and incidence of cancer in the community, which now sees 12,000 new cases diagnosed every year and about 87,000 West Australians living with cancer.
“We call on the next state government to commit $10 million per annum for four years to a cancer research fund, or a total commitment of $40m over the four year term of government, adding to the generous donations made by the WA community for research,” Ms Rooney said.
“We know a state government investment in WA’s research programs will make a difference. It will make it easier for more West Australians to participate in research opportunities such as clinical trials, and lead to better outcomes for some cancer patients,” she said.
Professor Saunders said in comparison to other Australian states and territories, WA has seen a very poor level of investment in local cancer research from successive state governments. Since 2000, WA researchers have been receiving a diminishing share of NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) research funds and last year they secured less than 6% of funding.
“We desperately need to reverse this downward trend and address the threat to our local research community. The only way to do this is by the state government coming on board. “We’ve seen increases in cancer research funding in Victoria and Queensland, and now it’s the WA state government’s time to step up,” she said.
“We know from direct Cancer Council experience there are so many extraordinary research projects that should be progressed but unfortunately we can only fund a tiny proportion of these. “We consider it critical that more cancer research projects are funded and that the specialist cancer research workforce here is supported, encouraging young researchers, many of whom are currently having to leave the state, to remain in WA. But we need the government to achieve this,” Professor Saunders said.
We are also calling on the next state government to maintain and build upon their current investment in successful cancer prevention efforts, a call endorsed by Bruce Armstrong, Adjunct Professor in the School of Population Health at the University of Western Australia.
“WA has a proud history of leading the way on prevention programs for cancer and other chronic diseases – but delivering these campaigns state-wide requires adequate funding,” Professor Armstrong said.
“One in three cancers can be prevented by simple lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, being SunSmart, limiting red and processed meats, and eating more fruit and vegetables.”
Our CEO Susan Rooney said the next state government also needs to invest more in detecting cancer early and to improve the care of cancer patients, in particular in addressing the mental health needs of cancer patients and the specific needs of Aboriginal cancer patients.
“We call on the next state government to commit $350,000 per annum of dedicated funding for 4 years to enable improved psychological care and support to reach more West Australians,” Ms Rooney said.
“We know that up to 40 per cent of cancer patients experience clinically-significant mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. So, it is critical that dedicated funding for specialised liaison psychiatry, clinical psychology and specialist oncology social workers keeps up with the growing demand for support for complex cancer patients.”
Additionally, we are asking the next state government to continue to implement and resource the recommendations of the 2015 Cancer Care Taskforce.
Professor Saunders said the clinician-led Taskforce identified a number of key recommendations critical to improving cancer services across WA Health.
“When implemented, these recommendations are expected to result in more equitable and timely access to cancer services for West Australians, better safety and quality outcomes for cancer patients and an improved patient experience across the cancer patient pathway.”
And Professor Saunders said to help drive better outcomes for cancer patients, WA needs better data.
“It’s really important to have good data system in place to ensure that our health system remains up to date.
“Any cancer clinician will tell you without good data, without knowing what the outcomes are, we can’t do better. It’s really important to understand what happens with patients, what treatments they have, what outcomes they have, how long they have to wait for treatment.
Susan Rooney said there are very few people in the community who have not been touched by cancer so these are issues that affect all West Australians.
“As our population grows and we live longer, more and more people in our community will be affected so it’s the responsibility of all political parties to consider how we can decrease the number of Western Australians who are affected by or die from cancer,” she said.
Ms Rooney said some of our election priorities emphasised a smarter allocation of health dollars to have the greatest impact on the incidence and impact of cancer.
“Some of our asks such as improving cancer data are not costly but we know this investment will make a significant difference to West Australian cancer patients.”
We urge Western Australians to join our online campaign, www.unitedagainstcancer.com.au to show politicians from all parties that cancer is a priority issue for the community. Together, we can make a real difference – and it only takes 30 seconds of your time.