Life-changing cancer treatment for patients in South West Queensland

22 February 2024

The Darling Downs Health (DDH) teleoncology service covers a vast geography, where possible, taking cancer treatments to rural and remote patients and alleviating enormous travel, financial and emotional burdens for these people and their families.

Teleoncology Clinical Nurse Consultant Naomi Kinast has been a driving force behind the innovative service for the past 2 years. Using a Darling Downs Health and Research Collaborative grant, Naomi is evaluating the service.

“The DDH teleoncology service is a very collaborative nurse-led model of care, with huge benefits for our cancer patients and the upskilling of our rural and remote workforce,” Naomi said.

“Data shows that when cancer patients are treated closer to home, they have much better outcomes.

“For one St George patient who has received care since the service began, we calculated that it had saved her over 25,000 km of travel and given her back 48 days of her life.

“You can’t put a value on a person’s time and quality of life.”

Before the DDH team started the program, they identified that some people travelled up to 10 or 12 hours to receive half an hour of cancer treatment, and some would decline chemotherapy treatment altogether because the travel burden was too great.

Naomi took a multidisciplinary team from DDH to Cairns and Townsville to benchmark their proposed program against the North Queensland Remote Chemotherapy Supervision model.

The DDH service launched in July 2022 with 9 patients per month. Now, the team administers systemic anti-cancer therapies to approximately 80 patients a month at sites in St George, Roma, Charleville, Warwick, Dalby and Kingaroy. They are bringing on new sites in 2024, starting with Goondiwindi.

“Between January and June 2023 and July to December 2023, we saw a 90% increase in administrations,” Naomi explained.

“This growth shows the demand and need for this service.

“Not all cancer patients can access the service because there are strict inclusion criteria based on the cancer type and treatment regime, but we screen everyone for the opportunity because we have seen the benefits.

“We have had overwhelming positive feedback from our patients saying this service literally changes their lives.

“The cost implications for our patients and health services are endless.

“Rural and remote patients who travel to receive cancer treatment can apply for the patient travel subsidy scheme and receive an amount per kilometre.

“From July to December 2023, we have calculated a saving of almost $57,000 in patients’ travel costs alone.

“Our rural staff value the opportunity to upskill. They travel to Toowoomba for training before they join the teleoncology service. They are so involved in their local communities and want to see people stay at home to receive their treatment as much as the patients themselves.”

While the logistics of organising patients, staff and medicine to rural and remote sites is enormous, Naomi is adamant the value outweighs these challenges.

“When we set it up, I didn’t expect to impact the lives of so many people,” Naomi said.

“I grew up on a farm in the Lockyer Valley, and this job is close to my heart. I feel a great sense of responsibility that what we do today has lasting effects on the lives of rural and remote patients into the future.

“As our service expands, we urgently need more space in Toowoomba and funding to help more patients.

“We have identified further sites, but we must roll the service out slowly and safely. It takes a lot of commitment from many people to make it happen, but it’s worth it.”

Darling Downs Health is part of Queensland Health, which is one of our 13 partners.

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