Lymphoedema is a chronic condition, which can be debilitating for cancer survivors, but manageable with early detection and appropriate intervention. It is predicted that 20% of patients with melanoma, breast, genitourinary or gynaecological cancer will develop lymphoedema throughout their lifetime (NBOCC 2008). This equates to more than 8000 new cases per year in Australia, of which 155 new cases could be predicted in Gippsland.
In 2010 GRICS identified a shortage of lymphoedema practitioners in the Gippsland region. Surveyed Gippsland lymphoedema practitioners reported many patients were either not receiving lymphoedema services; receiving service from staff without appropriate training or travelling long distances to access services. Additional consultation with key stakeholders was undertaken to define and clarify regional requirements. The ‘Lymphoedema Framework An International Perspective’ was identified as current best practice for lymphoedema service provision. An accredited training program for Level 1 Lymphoedema Practitioners was funded by GRICS with local Level 2 practitioners assisting in delivering the program. Health services nominating staff for training provided a commitment to deliver a lymphoedema service and support newly trained practitioners.
The objectives were to:
• obtain commitment from health services to provide lymphoedema services utilising best practice principles
• support local provision of accredited Level 1 lymphoedema training
• implement a structure to support ongoing service provision.
GRICS identified a service provision and workforce shortfall and strategically partnered with health services to remedy these. There are now 20 qualified lymphoedema practitioners employed in nine Gippsland health services compared to ten practitioners in five health services. This outcome was achieved through provision of free local training which assisted in building sustainable professional relationships with regional peers and training facilitators. Support from GRICS includes Community of Practice meetings, mentoring, educational opportunities and consideration of succession planning. Cancer survivors can expect to benefit significantly and this model could be transferrable to other regions.