Impact on ongoing/usual access to treatment and medicines and appointments
The Australian Government has introduced measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure appropriate purchasing of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. This includes enabling people to have up to one-months’ supply of their usual prescription. Pharmacies are classified as essential services and are likely to remain open to enable people to fill usual prescriptions. If you have cancer, friends or family may be able to fill your prescriptions for you to avoid unnecessary exposure to public places.
The Home Medicines Program enables people who have a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, show symptoms of COVID-19 or are immunocompromised, including cancer patients, to order Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescription medicines online and have them delivered. A fact sheet has been developed for more information
Medicines Australia, which represents the pharmaceutical industry, has notified the public that it doesn’t anticipate shortages of medicines as a result of COVID-19 and that there is no need to stock up with more than your usual supply of medicines.
However, as you may be required to quarantine or self-isolate, you might benefit from ensuring you have access to your medicines to ensure your ongoing treatment and side effect management is not disrupted if in isolation.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration publishes disruptions to the supply of medicines on their website, and if a particular medicine is unavailable, the Therapeutic Goods Administration approves a substitute product for doctors to continue to appropriately treat patients during the shortage period.
If you are concerned about ongoing access to cancer treatment or medicines for the management of side-effects you should speak to your doctor or local pharmacist, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for guidance.
You might feel anxious about visiting a hospital or treatment facility at the moment if your immune system is lowered however attending your appointment is still important and hospitals are putting measures in place to reduce your risk of infection and ensure you are safe. While many appointments for surveillance and treatment require a face-to-face meeting with your doctor, some appointments can be conducted remotely via videoconferencing or out-of-hospital where there may be less people. We would encourage you to speak to your doctor about utilising this option whenever possible.
Let your doctor know if you feel anxious about attending your regular appointments and your risk of exposure to COVID-19. You can also contact Cancer Council on 13 11 20 to chat about any concerns you may have
Cancer is categorised as category one, ‘urgent’ in health services across Australia. This means it is a high priority condition. While most cancer cases require prompt action, some cancers progress at a slower rate. Every cancer is different. Therefore every treatment plan is also not the same, so any delay to commencing planned treatment will have a different impact depending on the individual and disease characteristics. Your doctor wont unnecessarily delay treatment where it will impact on your outcomes.
The Optimal Cancer Care Pathways are cancer tumour specific guides that explain each step of the diagnosis, treatment and end-of-life or survivorship phases. Each steps describes the possible interventions by a doctor as well as recommended timeframes for receiving care.
It is normal to feel anxious or concerned about your cancer treatment at a time like this. If you are concerned you should speak to your treatment team so that they can explain how any changes or delays might work. You can also talk to the psychosocial support team within your treatment centre.
Cancer Council and other organisations offer various supportive care resources and programs to assist people with the psychosocial impacts of a cancer diagnosis. To find out more, or to speak to our trained staff please call us on 13 11 20.
An increase in COVID-19 cases may mean that your usual treatment centre or hospital is busier than usual. You should speak to your treatment team about the potential impact to your treatment and the options for appointments, both for active treatment and consultations. While it’s likely most active treatment will need to be conducted in a hospital, there may be options to have this done through local services or in the home. Consultations and follow up appointments are increasingly being offered online, through programs like Skype, or over the phone. This removes the need for you to attend a hospital however, your doctor will advise when it is necessary for you to attend hospital. It’s important that you maintain communication with your treatment team about any changes even when consultations cannot take place in person. Your treatment team will be able to work out the right balance between the benefits of delay and the risks of having treatment during this time.
Discuss potential changes with your treatment team. Hospitals services such as psychology and social work are still available to you when you are being treated remotely.
Clinical trials are an important way to improve treatment for people with cancer. If a clinical trial proves that a test or treatment is more effective than existing options, it may become the new standard of care for patients in the future. A trial can also identify potential risks and side effects. Clinical trials can offer early access to potentially beneficial treatment to cancer patients.
Clinical trials often run out of hospitals, which at this time are likely to be busier than usual treating patients with COVID-19. This could affect the ability to continue the usual clinical trial program. If the conditions of the clinical trial change, trial participants will continue to have access to treatment of their disease that is high quality, safe and effective. Anyone concerned about disruptions to clinical trials participation or access to treatment should discuss this with their doctor or the clinical trials coordinator.
It is important to talk with your treatment team before travelling for treatment and follow up appointments to avoid unnecessary travel. Many services have already moved to telephone consultations and this may be the right solution for you. Your doctor should be able to advise you if there is an equivalent local service closer to home which may be more suitable during this time if you do need treatment.
Reimbursement for required medical travel will remain under each state-based patient travel and accommodation scheme. Information about these schemes is available here. Some people who travel interstate for their treatment may be affected by the closure of state borders. If this applies to you, then you will likely be able to apply for classification as an essential traveller on compassionate grounds, such as medical treatment or visiting ill loved ones.
Cancer Council’s Lodges on Greenhill Road and Dequetteville Terrace remain open and operational and continue to take bookings from regional South Australians travelling to Adelaide for treatment. To find out more about this service contact our Cancer Council Nurses on 13 11 20.
In any situation, we recommend you speak to a doctor about ongoing treatment arrangements.
While these may feel like uncertain times, regular check-ups, including follow up care, are important appointments to maintain between you and your doctor. A doctor will advise if your circumstances change and they are unable to see you for a planned appointment. Where possible, they should offer another doctor, such as another specialist or general practitioner, to see you or provide remote consultations. In most situations these appointments can occur by phone or video. It is also important to clarify with your doctor about the essential tests that you still require to monitor your condition. It is likely that some tests may be deferred. Only your doctor can advise about your specific needs.
In response to COVID-19, the Australian Government released National Health Plan for Primary Care which includes the addition of an item number on the Medicare Benefits Schedule to allow doctors, nurses and mental health professionals to provide remote consultations or ‘telehealth’ services. A fact sheet is available for more information.