Minister for Health and Aged Care - press conference - 17 November 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's press conference in Sydney on the biggest investment in cancer nurses on record.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks everyone. This is a terrific day for us to make a terrific announcement for the support and care for many, many Australians living with cancer. More than 160,000 Australians are diagnosed with cancer every single day, in spite of the extraordinary inroads we’ve made in recent decades. Australia has some of the best cancer survival rates in the world and we're constantly seeing new treatments, new interventions come in to improve that survival rate even further.
Yesterday, I announced for example, the listing on the PBS – Nubeqa - which is a new medicine to be used in conjunction with hormone chemotherapy for up to 5,000 men with advanced prostate cancer every single year, a treatment would have cost more than $40,000 for each of those patients, is now available on the PBS for PBS prices. Only a couple of weeks ago, we listed Enhertu for advanced breast cancer, a treatment that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for maybe 600 patients every year, will now get access to it at PBS prices.
We're introducing new screening programs, notably the lung cancer screening program that was such a point of advocacy for the Lung Foundation, who I know are here today. I want to thank them for their continued advocacy for this cancer type which is still Australia's biggest cancer killer. There is prevention programs put in place to try and stop people getting cancer in the first place, particularly with a new generation of tobacco control programs.

Today, I want to talk about the support, the information, the advice that is given to those tens of thousands of Australians who receive a cancer diagnosis each and every day. We're joined here by Dorothy Keefe, among others who I’ll talk about a little later, who has only recently published Australia's first Cancer Plan, and the message out of that is despite all of the advances made over recent decades, there still are very gross inequities in the level of support, the survival rates between Australians living in different parts of our country with different socioeconomic status and with different cancer types. And the core ambition of the Cancer Plan is to provide a greater level of equity so that all Australians get the best possible support and treatment available across the world, no matter where they live, and no matter what their cancer type.
To that end today, I’m announcing $166 million for a comprehensive Cancer Nursing and Navigation Program from the day of the person’s diagnosis and right through treatment. It will provide the best possible support, care and advice for them and for their family. Now, this program has a few elements that I'll quickly just run through. The first element in terms of the progression of the journey is around $50 million to the Cancer Council to provide a comprehensive navigation service. This will be available from the day of their diagnosis. There will be someone on the other end of the phone available to provide information, advice and ultimately connect people to a specialist cancer nurse. A couple cancer organisations already provide that service, for example Ovarian Cancer provides a well-known tool to support nurses, that will be expanded, the Melanoma Institute provides patients dealing with melanoma, and all of those other specialist cancer organisations who know that cancer type so well, will be able to connect with you through the Cancer Council and provide you with that specialist support. The navigation support for children and young adults and adolescents over the last 12 months has been provided by a consortium of Redkite, Canteen and Camp Quality, it was something called the children’s and youth Cancer Hub. It’s been a terrific support for young people and their families.
The centerpiece of our announcement today is an all cancer nursing support program. This is why Glenn McGrath in particular is here. So many Australians will be familiar with the level of support that the McGrath Foundation and their breast cancer nurses have been providing to Australian patients living with breast cancer for almost 20 years now. It is recognised as the gold standard nursing support program for those patients. And there are others as well, the Prostate Cancer Foundation is here, they've been providing that support for that very large group of the most commonly diagnosed cancer for the next many years, as well.
What we found through the Cancer Plan is that there are so many different people with different cancer types not getting that gold standard of service that the McGrath Foundation has been able to deliver to breast cancer patients. The key recommendation in Dorothy Keefe’s Cancer Plan was to have an all-cancer navigation nursing program and today we deliver that. It will be led by the McGrath Foundation, obviously working in partnership with those specialist cancer organisations who have those insights into particular cancer types.
I want to make sure that Australians out there, no matter what they're talking about, or where they live, have confidence and know that they'll be able to get nursing support that the McGrath Foundation is so well renowned for, that they have been giving to breast cancer patients over the last almost twenty years. I really want to thank Glenn and the Foundation for agreeing to do this work as the centerpiece of this comprehensive nurse navigation program. It will mean an increase in over two thirds in the number of Commonwealth Cancer Nurses, a very, very big investment in cancer nurses. I want to emphasise that it's part of a comprehensive program that will start from the day of diagnosis, through specialist telehealth support, through specialist cancer organisations and then through the journey in specialist nursing support, that will be available to every Australian living with cancer no matter where you are, what your cancer type. I’m going to hand over now to Glenn to say a few words.
GLENN MCGRATH: Thank you very much, Minister for those very kind words. The McGrath Foundation is something I'm very proud of and to be involved in today's announcement, and to be part of the cancer nursing navigation program is something we're very proud of, but very humbled as well. I think back to 18 years ago when we first started the Foundation, that was after going through the journey of breast cancer with my late wife Jane, and we were approached to tell our story, and we thought about it for a while because Jane was quite a private person, but we felt if by telling our story, it can help one person, one family, then it was worthwhile. Then after that, Jane had a recurrence, and there was a breast cancer nurse there, the difference that made in our lives, but especially Jane's was absolutely incredible. We launched the McGrath Foundation in 2005 with two very clear objectives: one, raise awareness of breast cancer, the other one was to raise funds to place breast care nurses in communities right across this country. I'm very proud to say we've got two of our nurses here, and couple of the ladies that they are supporting - Kerry and Sam - and that's what the Foundation is about.
I think, where things have grown in that time is absolutely amazing, never in our wildest dreams. I'm in a lucky position where I've travelled around, I've talked to a lot of families, a lot of people that have dealt with breast cancer, that are going through breast cancer, they tell me their story, and they say that they’ve had one of the McGrath breast cancer nurses, and the positive impact that it's had in their life. It's amazing, it inspires me to keep going, but also to know what we're doing is making a big difference. Always at the back of my mind was breast cancer, and some of the other cancers are very lucky with the support they get, obviously, with cancer, the fear that it creates, to have someone there to take them through that journey, to answer any questions to help navigate through the system, to know what's coming up next, to make life changing decisions. This is what the nurses do on a daily basis. They're absolutely incredible. The McGrath Foundation is not about me, it's about our nurses, the families and individuals that they support. So, today's announcement, as I said before, it's a great honour, I'm very humbled that we've been chosen to be the ones to lead the program, to put 100 more cancer care nurses on. It is a big change moving forward, we feel we're definitely up for the challenge. But we know that we can't do it by ourselves, yes, we need support of the government, but when the whole cancer sector can come together, it's amazing what you can achieve. That's been our mission from the start.
We’re still very focused on breast cancer and achieving our mission there. But now to move into all cancer, to have a positive impact on other people's lives, to not be discriminated against because what cancer you get, or that impacting the support you get, hopefully, we can make a positive difference in so many people's lives. Everyone behind me here today, I think it's a huge moment, it's a once in a generation moment where we can make a positive difference in so many people's lives. And that's what it's about at the end of the day. It's about the quality of life, by being here today, we can do that. I think it's absolutely amazing. The nurses are just incredible people, we're very proud, I'm very proud of the team we have at the Foundation, led by John Conde on the Board, Holly Masters the CEO - absolutely amazing. It's about having the right people, and if you do that, and you come together, it's amazing what can be achieved. So once again, thank you Minister for having faith in the McGrath Foundation. We’re looking forward to the journey ahead, and to do it here at the SCG, my favourite ground in the world is something very special.
TANYA BUCHANAN, CEO, CANCER COUNCIL: We all know that cancer is hard, but we also know that finding support for a cancer diagnosis should not be hard, but it is really difficult to find out where to go to access information, it's difficult to find out where you're going to get support. This program is really important for us because what it does is helps the 160,000 Australians who are diagnosed with cancer this year to be connected with colleagues across the sector, in making sure that every Australian who gets the diagnosis of cancer is able to access the support they need and the information they need, how they need it, and wherever they are.
The Cancer Council is very much looking forward to working with our colleagues across the sector and with other cancer sector organisations to make sure that this program meets the needs of all Australians diagnosed with cancer in the next year, and into the coming years. So, thanks very much and I really look forward to working with you all.
DOROTHY KEEFE, CEO, CANCER AUSTRALIA: It's been a very exciting couple of weeks in the cancer sector. Thank you for allowing me, Minister, to release the Australian Cancer Plan a couple of weeks ago. The idea of the Cancer Plan is to make sure that every person with cancer, or affected by cancer in Australia, has access to world's best cancer outcomes. At the moment we don't have that. What we have is differences due to which cancer you have, and differences in outcomes due to which community you belong to and where you live. So, we asked everyone affected by cancer in Australia, and all of the sector workers and charities, to tell us what they needed in an Australian Cancer Plan. What they told us was they wanted their cancers detected as early as possible, they wanted the world's best treatment underpinned by excellence in research and good data, and they wanted to be cared for in the whole cancer journey.
This announcement today by the Minister of this money for that caring part of the journey will mean that we are able to link patients to what they need, when they need it, and where they need it, irrespective of where they come from or where they are. And that means we get better outcomes and results. We also have some wonderful collaborations that have already started, with Movember here today who have put money and expertise in patient reported outcome measures and patient reported experiences, which again, enable us to deliver the best care that we can.
We also are partnering, again, with Cancer Council – we are everywhere of course - in the data collection, because we know that good data actually saves lives, and that's another area that we have to focus on. So, we're absolutely delighted that we've got the Plan launched, that we’re well into the implementation working with the entire sector to produce the best outcomes for Australians with cancer.
JOURNALIST: Why choose the McGrath Foundation to implement this program over other cancer types, Minister?
BUTLER: It's a mixture of scale, experience and reputation. I think so many Australians are familiar with the McGrath Foundation's support for patients with breast cancer. When I get out and talk to people who have dealt with different cancer types, they all know the level of support that the McGrath Foundation, through government funding, but also through its extraordinary fundraising capacity has been able to provide to Australians with breast cancer. It’s about experience, it’s about scale, it’s also about the mission of the Foundation itself to not just to continue the work it does, so importantly in the breast cancer community, but to use all that it has learnt, and all of its skills, into other cancer types.
There's a particular patient from my community in Adelaide that I've spoken to a couple of times who has had breast cancer, and who tragically has had another form of cancer as well. She's told me that those two journeys – they are chalk and cheese - she felt so supported, so well informed with her breast cancer journey, but that government funding, that support and advice wasn't there for the other cancer experience she had, she says she felt very alone, and she felt quite uninformed about what she should do and who she should connect with. I think all Australians would like to see all cancer types lifted to the level of support that the McGrath Foundation has been able to provide through its terrific breast cancer. Now, as Glenn said, the Foundation is going to have to tap into the extraordinary understanding of particular cancer types that the organisations in the cancer sector bring. They will be called upon by these specialist telehealth supports, so this will be a joint effort, they will very much be drawing on that experience.

JOURNALIST: There are 160,000 cancer diagnoses each year, will this funding be enough to get those support nurses on the ground to help those people with cancer, because 160,000 is quite a lot?
BUTLER: Yeah, we've modelled this very carefully and worked very closely with Cancer Australia, with Professor Dorothy Keefe, her advice is not every person battling cancer needs a specialist nurse support them. It's about providing a step or scaled series of supports from phone support that the Cancer Council provides, to a specialist through particular cancer organisations, or a special nurse, or a cancer nurse, like the McGrath Foundation or Prostate Cancer Foundation, or an all cancer nurse. We've worked on this very carefully, with modelled carefully, we're very confident that the record investment we're providing here – a two thirds increase in the number of Commonwealth funded nurses - as well as all of those additional programs will be quite a game changer in the level of support given to Australians living with cancer, having dealt with a diagnosis right through their journey.

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