What ‘choice’ looks like in Victoria

In one of the biggest blows to those suffering from cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, the Victorian government has dramatically cut its budget into medical research.

In the 2022-23 financial year, the Victorian government invested $108.1 million in medical research. This year’s budget is less than half of that, with just $57.3 million now being invested.

One of the most cruel cuts was to the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance, which lost 75 percent of its funding, down from $30.5 million over four years to just $7.5 million.

The Centre is a joint venture of ten different institutions that integrates research, education and clinical care.

The Centre’s chief executive, Professor Grant McArthur, explained the impact of the cuts to the ABC:

“There’s other programs that we’d planned very strategically to invest in and they have not been funded and that includes cancer immunotherapies, it includes an absolutely world-leading way of linking the data from GPs to specialists in hospitals and health services to understand the patient journey…

“...If we want the world’s best cancer outcomes we have to have this way of a seamless path through cancer care including GPs, detect cancer early, get the right treatment and then the right follow up which actually also involves GPs, so we’ve got to have data to monitor the system to work out where we can intervene to get better outcomes to patients.”

Interviewer Richelle Hunt could not hide her shock at the news:

“I’m astounded. I’ve had a physical reaction to that actually because when we talk about cancer, every cancer is individual and every cancer affects an individual differently… this program and the outcome of that program not running, having that data not go to the GP, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Professor McArthur explained that this would impact almost everyone: “One in two of us will have a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime and I’m not talking about minor skin cancers; I’m talking about potentially life-threatening cancers.”

Diane Dunn of the Brain Tumour Alliance Australia is living with brain cancer in regional Victoria. She told the ABC the cuts were personal:

“It’s very personal to me because I’m living with a terminal, inoperable brain tumour and I’m on a trial that’s probably come out of the partners of the Alliance… why would you do this? … why take money away from something that’s working so successfully?

“Once I ran out of standard of care treatment options, my oncologist said, ‘right, we need to look at a trial for you and lucky for you there’s three options to choose from.’ Now, if cancer funding goes down for research, maybe the next person who comes along whose got to the end of their treatment won’t have that opportunity.”

Ms Dunn’s comments hit it on the head: these funding cuts will result in fewer choices for cancer patients in Victoria. Meanwhile, the number of euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths is increasing year on year. 

This doesn’t equate to end-of-life ‘choice.’ 

When a government removes funding from cancer research and integration of health care services in a health system that is already floundering, then it amounts to taking away choices.

Victorians deserve better.