Bendigo Cancer Centre as Loddon Mallee’s largest public health cancer service is operating to maintain service to our patients. We are making significant changes in care delivery to ensure patient and staff safety is maximized during the current impact of COVID-19.
Steps We Are Taking to Ensure Your Safety
While we are working to minimise the disruption to clinics and patient care, our first concern is the safety of our patients, their carers and families, and to ensure that our staff are protected so they can continue to care for patients.
Generally, people with cancer should continue to follow any specific advice or standard precautions recommended by your Oncologist or Radiation Oncologist and treating health care team to minimise risk. All oncology patients undergoing active chemotherapy treatment have a ‘febrile neutropenia medical alert card’ to prompt urgent medical attention when presenting to the emergency department. Please bring this card with you if instructed to attend the emergency department for COVID-19 testing.
Your immune system may not be as strong as usual, due to your cancer diagnosis and/or treatment. Observing COVID-19 guidelines for older patients, regardless of your age, is a good approach. We have attached guidelines for older patients here.
Strategies to Protect Yourself
Government social distancing rules ask people to stay home but a key exception to this is seeking medical treatment. This applies to all medical treatment and not only people with COVID-19 symptoms. You should continue to stay in contact with your medical professionals particularly if you have chronic medical conditions. Don’t put off seeking medical help when you need it.
Read about the importance of continuing with routine health care here.
Please use these government resources:
Home Medicines delivery for cancer patients
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 PBS prescription medicines and have them delivered monthly from your pharmacy. More details of this program are here.
Patients on treatment may be at increased risk of developing infection. There is also the risk of contracting COVID-19. The information below is for patients in active treatment (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and other treatments such as immunotherapies). It will help you understand what to do if you develop any symptoms.
If you are on treatment that can suppress your immune system (active chemotherapy or immune-suppressing drugs) and you develop a temperature higher than 38o regardless of associated symptoms GO to your closest emergency department or hospital acute care.
If you are on treatment that can suppress your immune system (active chemotherapy or immune-suppressing drugs, Haemotology oncology and active radiotherapy) and have respiratory symptoms (shortness of breath, cough, sore throat), you may have COVID-19. If unwell you should contact your nearest hospital emergency department, or call 000. Make sure you tell them you are a cancer patient. If you are not feeling unwell, contact your GP, closest fever clinic or emergency department and follow their advice.
If you are NOT on treatment that can suppress your immune system and have respiratory symptoms (shortness of breath, a cough or a sore throat) OR a temperature higher than 38o, you may have COVID-19. If unwell you should contact your nearest hospital emergency department, or call 000. Make sure you tell them you are a cancer patient. If you are not feeling unwell, contact your GP, closest fever clinic or emergency department and follow their advice.
You can also use the tool below to check if your symptoms indicate you may have COVID-19.
If you have OTHER general symptoms of cancer care during business hours, please call our Symptom and Urgent Review Clinic [SURC]. SURC Nurse is on 5454 8832. This is cancer nurse-on-call support for patients experiencing side-effects during cancer treatment.
Your Regular Appointment Type May Change
Current cancer patients are being organised into appointment categories to ensure that physical visits are restricted ONLY to patients that need to be seen in person.
If you need to attend an appointment in person, we ask that you and anyone attending with you wears a mask. It is important that you understand how to wear a mask safely (including how to take it on and off) to protect others.
A large proportion of patient reviews and new patient appointments will be conducted by telephone and telehealth (videoconferencing where you and your doctor can see and speak to each other on screen). All patients with existing appointments are being individually contacted by Cancer Centre staff to inform them of changes – if you haven’t heard from us, we ask that you wait as we work through this process.
If a telehealth appointment is offered to you, full instructions on the use of telehealth using HealthDirect are available for patients at https://www.bendigohealth.org.au/telehealth/
Telephone or telehealth appointments will feel different as we get accustomed to this type of contact. Discussions in your appointments may have new information for you to understand. We know these adjustments can be stressful for patients and you are encouraged to ask questions and follow up with your treatment team.
When attending in person for treatment or review, current visitor restrictions at Bendigo Health mean you will not be able to bring anyone into the appointment. If it is not possible for you to attend on your own, please let us know when you are contacted regarding your appointment so we can arrange what’s right for you.
Your Regular Treatment May Change
There will potentially be changes to your treatment regimen to minimize attendance. Your treating team will decide the best option for you and discuss this with you about these changes.
It might seem worrying for you to have a treatment break or be asked to alter your treatment, but this has been assessed as the safest course of action for you while COVID-19 is a risk to patients.
Listen here to Professor Declan Murphy from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre on ABC’s Coronacast regarding changes to cancer treatment across Victoria.
If you attend some Melbourne based medical appointments
At the current time you are still permitted to attend Melbourne for appointments. Medical care is listed as one of the reasons under which those in unrestricted areas can travel to Melbourne. While you are in Melbourne you will need to abide by Stage 3 Restrictions currently in place.
For patients wanting general current information on COVID-19 specifically for cancer patients, we recommend checking in with the Cancer Council Australia website regularly.
To get answers to specific questions regarding cancer and COVID-19, the Cancer Council helpline is best. Call 13 11 20.
Cancer nurses are available to speak to on this helpline and information is updated daily.
You can download the official government “Coronavirus Australia” app and the COVIDSafe app that helps identify people exposed to coronavirus in the Apple App Store or Google Play, or join the WhatsApp channel on iOS or Android. Full details at: https://www.australia.gov.au/