Walcha Australia Day Address [Transcript]


We are meeting on the traditional lands of the Dungutti People, who, I’m told, have lived in this area for many thousands of years.  I acknowledge them and give my respects to Elders past and present.

I’d like to acknowledge and thank Mayor Eric Noakes, Aurora Reilly, President of the Australia Day Committee, and the Australia Day committee and and of course, all of you! – the wonderful community of Walcha for making my husband, Warwick and me so welcome.

I have a very special relationship with this part of New South Wales. You see, back in the 1950s I went to school in Armidale, and then I did my first year of Medicine at the University of New England.

Many years later, Walcha was one of the first towns my husband, Warwick, and I visited when I began campaigning for everyone in rural NSW to have better access to palliative care. It was 2012 and we on our way to Armidale and we left our petition here in the museum and at a GP’s surgery – we looked around and were so impressed with this town.

I am one of more than 300 Australia Day Ambassadors who across the country right now are participating in community celebrations just like this one. I am honoured to add my voice to the chorus that Australia is the greatest country in the world.

Throughout my life, as a palliative care doctor and campaigner, but even well before that, I’ve been privy to a not-so-secret quality that seems to stitch us all together as Australians.

Namely, our resilience – especially during hard times.

So many of us and our ancestors have come to this country seeking a better life for ourselves and our children – or, growing up on it we’ve learned to endure its rugged ways.

I think this breeds in people a certain compassion for others, that, although we see division across the world right now, and some even in Australia, it’s our resilience and compassion, for the most part that seem to be holding us all together.

I think I first learned these qualities through my mother.

She was a refugee from Vienna, you see, who, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, fled Hitler’s murderous regime – that blamed Jews like her for all Germany’s woes, and had already started rounding them up, drowning them in the Danube, and beating them to death on the streets.

It was a savage time – but getting out of Europe wasn’t easy in the 1930’s. Britain only accepted children. The US only took scientists. And Australia had a policy that accepted refugees only if they had a contact in the country who could guarantee them 200 Australian pounds on arrival.

My mother, ever-resourceful, sent her story to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Months passed as the mail made its way through the dark. And when it returned, a glimmer of light.

The Bishop of Brisbane offered the guarantee my mother needed to come here.

And so, she set out on the six-week journey to Australia, sailing into Sydney Harbour surrounded by the bushfires of Black Friday, in January 1939.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

But by the same compassion that had got her here, my mother’s first priority was to get her own mother, and several other families, out of Europe. She no sooner landed than she flew to Canberra to make the arrangements. She saved many lives, just as the War in Europe broke out in earnest.

I was born and did most of my growing up in Sydney.

My mother of course, was very pleased that I became a doctor. That is, after all, every Jewish mother’s wish for their child.

Her story is like so many who call this country home, and as I became a GP and later became a palliative care doctor, it’s that type of story I heard more and more as people confided in me toward the tender end of their lives.

For those unfamiliar with it, palliative care is a field of medicine that relieves the pain and suffering of people living with a life-limiting conditions – things like cancer, heart or kidney failure and dementia. Palliative care can help improve a patient’s quality of life at any point, from the first diagnosis to the final breath.

It’s certainly evolved a lot since the early days – I was first exposed to it in 1974 when I was practising as a GP, but was invited to visit our local hospice.

The experience was transformative.

The next year, 1975, Warwick and I attended the First International Meeting of the Association for the Study of Pain in Florence. And who wouldn’t take a tax-deductible trip to Florence?

There I met the pioneers of the field that we now call palliative care. And I became one of the first to bring their new knowledge back to Australia. The knowledge that with the right medications and careful attention to detail you can get rid of the pain and people could live well instead of suffering.

Thus began the better half of a 40 year career, looking after people as they approached the end of their lives.

People say to me “You are so wonderful, it must be so depressing to work with dying people” but it isn’t. It’s really wonderful. There is so much you can do to help.

You see real life.

Patients enjoying laughter with loved ones. Sharing their stories. Scared, jealous, joyful, hopeful, reflective, relieved, happy and angry – not just quaint cliches, but all the messy colour that is real  life.

You see, when time means so much, there’s no time for superficial stuff, or even meanness – all that superficiality is stripped away, and the real person beneath is revealed. And when the chips are down people really are quite wonderful.

One sticks in my mind – an 82-year old Scot, with cancer of the oesophagus. Not fun for anyone – but being a Scot, this was a particularly hard blow, because he couldn’t swallow even a drop of water, let alone Whisky.

He was pretty low when I visited him that evening.  He said he was ready to go but he just wished he could enjoy one last dram of whisky.

I had a few tricks up my sleeve with medications and started them at once. When I came to him the next day he said “I think I’d like to try that whisky – but only if you have one too.” I’d never tasted a whisky before

And so we sat and clinked our glasses and swallowed the Scotch – and having partaken of that one last pleasure, as the sun set that day, he died.

That’s a type of resilience we don’t seem to celebrate enough of – not just being tough, but also being tender. Not closing oneself off from the world, to stubbornly weather the storm alone, but opening oneself up to seek the strength of others.

In the end, what people seek isn’t always a sense of achievement or success – but a sense of closure and completeness.

In a strange piece of Post-War irony, a German man in his 60s came to me. He had a tumour on the side of his neck which pushed his chin askew and reminded me of a cauliflower.

It hurt, it oozed, and it stank about as bad as you’d expect – if not a little worse.

Werner was his name and he had lost all hope and wanted euthanasia. I explained I didn’t do that but promised I would help him. It only took a couple of days to get rid of the pain and the tumour shrank a bit with the steroids that made him feel better too. Then he went home and I began visiting him there every week.

Now, I’m a big believer in being reliable. That’s what makes people know you care, and that you care about their time – so at the same day, same time, each week, I’d be knocking at Werner’s door.

I spent about an hour there at a time, and every visit he’d open up to reveal a little extra piece of his life.

First, he told me about growing up in Germany in the 1930’s. Then about the coming of the War, and being called up at the ripe old age of 16.

He told me about serving on the front, at the Battle of The Bulge. The allies were doing pretty well. Werner and thousands of others were captured. It was winter. They were held in the frozen fields surrounded by barbed wire. His fingers froze with frost bite. They all got dysentery. His frozen fingers couldn’t get his pants down quickly enough. He felt so profoundly helpless then.

He told me about his experience after the war, emigrating to Australia with his wife and building a home in Sydney. He was so proud of all he had achieved.

Then at one of my visits, he played me a record.

It was a trumpet voluntary, rather like the Last Post. He explained that in ancient times this trumpet would ring out across the battle fields when the day’s fighting was over, so that the wounded could put their hands up to be seen and collected in horse drawn carts. It was his way of saying thank you, for me scooping him up when he had felt so very helpless.

He died so very peacefully in his own bed with his wife beside him just six weeks after we first met. His life truly complete and rounded off and true.

In another piece of symmetry which seems especially relevant today, my mother received an Australia Day honour some thirty-odd years ago.

She’d been very active in her retirement with the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the Women’s League For Peace and her local Senior Citizens club – and so she was made Senior Australian of the Year by the Local Council.

I wasn’t allowed to tell her about it until it was announced on the award night. I just had to get her there on a pretext. They made the announcement and my mother had to get up and make an impromptu speech. She did so well and I was so proud of her. What she talked about was her love for Australia and her enormous gratitude to Australia for taking her in, making her welcome and giving her such a great, rewarding life. I can’t stress enough what a great thing it is to live in a country where the great majority of the people have as second nature just the wish to help others.

Sadly, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 72. It was four years before she started having pain in her bones from multiple secondaries in her bones. But she was lucky because I was a palliative care doctor. While she was having radiotherapy and before the hormone treatment kicked in, I was able to control her pain, carefully adjusting her morphine to just match the pain. An OT checked the house and provided equipment. A physio taught her how to breathe with her broken ribs and we all talked together about the future. She had two really good years after that, going to town for lunch, meeting her friends, all the time allocating her treasures. She watched her garden and waited for it to bloom and when the end came I was with her and it was so peaceful. I miss her, but I want to make very sure that the kind of care she had is available to everyone who needs it.

I tell that story because I want everyone to know that palliative care helps people, not just at the very end of life, but also to live as well as possible in the last years and months and days of life.

But there’s another dimension to resilience that I’d like to tell you about.

In 2011 I was leading a cancer support group, when I learned that the funding had been cut to the palliative care service in my old stomping grounds, Northern Sydney.

I didn’t know what to do, but I knew something had to be done.

I started a petition and started meeting with politicians and health bureaucrats. I wrote letters and got stories in local papers. It took 8 months to raise 24,000 signatures on the petition, to see every Local Member in the area affected and to get up craw of the bureaucrats who had cut the funding. That triggered a debate in Parliament. The funding was restored and Barry O’Farrell got up on his hind legs and said “under my government, palliative care will never be disregarded as it was under Labor! “

Well, one thing leads to another. All the time I was running up and down the North Shore collecting signatures, people were saying: “If you think it’s bad in Sydney, you should see what it’s like in rural NSW.”

So, I looked and asked and saw and was shocked. Rural NSW has been entirely overlooked when it comes to care when there is no cure. So, another petition, another lot of pollies and bureaucrats and lots of trips to rural towns.

This started me on my current madness.

We’re now seven years in, with 3 more debates in Parliament under our belt, a co-ordinated campaign with the NSW Cancer Council, 55 Ambassadors on our ranks and over 85,000 signatures on our new petition, all trying to get more funding for palliative care across the State – especially here in New England!

You see, Tamworth and the region around it, has been the worst resourced area in NSW when it comes to palliative care.

It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, Tamworth had a wonderful palliative specialist, Dr John Trollor, who travelled around New England seeing patients right up to the Queensland border. He even got me to fly up to Tamworth to do some education for the GPs once.

He started Nioka, the palliative care unit in Tamworth, and set up several towns with palliative care nurses. When John retired, Dr Richard Thornton, a GP who had learned about palliative care, carried on the good work for a few years but also retired and still hasn’t been replaced.

I’ve been kicking and screaming about this area for the last three years.

The good news is that years of effort are finally starting to pay off.

In the last NSW Budget, the Treasurer announced a record enhancement for palliative care to the tune of $100M over the next 4 years. And just recently, it’s been announced that Tamworth will have additional funding for a palliative physician. An additional palliative care nurse has also been appointed there. More are needed and we have to ensure that a great person is found who will take the position of palliative specialist for the region – but these are all positive steps.

I think it’s easy to winge and see the Government as some immovable object, weighed down by politicians and bureaucrats.

But we are so fortunate to live in a country that allows everyday citizens to chip chip chip away, without persecution, and slowly, over time, to make progress.

It’s far from perfect, and change never happens quite how or why or as quickly as you’d expect, but it does happen with enough persistence.

I understand that political advocacy can seem fuzzy and far-fetched – so I’d like to leave you with a story that hopefully gives a more accurate portrayal of how things change behind closed doors, and why persistence pays.

In 2012, after getting the funds restored in Northern Sydney, one of the people in my Cancer Support Group spoke up.

He was a lovely young man who had a wife and two children aged 10 and 11, and a horrible cancer that formed lumps beneath his skin and in his organs. He was receiving radiotherapy at Westmead Hospital, but parking there was impossible.

It turned out that everyone in the hospital, from the chief surgeon down to the lowliest cleaner, all used the carpark outside the Cancer Centre because it was free and unregulated. And the hospital administration swept it under the rug.

So, I used the advocacy skills that I had learned in Northern Sydney and contacted the Local Member about the situation.

He was a lanky young man, but he has a good heart. He met with the patient and me, and soon enough we were all on the front page of the local paper beneath the headline: BAD TREATMENT AT WESTMEAD.

Well I tell you, the parking situation was fixed quick smart.

But it doesn’t end there.

You see, over the next five years I would have annual meetings with that lanky young Local Member. He’d seen the suffering in the young man from my support group, and he understood the need.

So, when he was made Finance Minister I started telling him about the Business Case for Palliative Care that I had prepared along with my colleague Dr Tony Ireland, which showed that if the State Government properly funded palliative care they could save $140M a year in NSW.

But he didn’t do anything.

Then next year I went to see him and he asked me what it would cost to make palliative care work for everyone in NSW and I calculated that an additional $25M a year would be needed to bring services up to scratch.

But he didn’t do anything.

And it may have been easy to stop then, and assume that Government is just some immovable object weighed down by politicians that only care about themselves. But we just kept going – meeting people with stories, collecting signatures, organising town hall meetings and forums, getting stories in the media, now with the added support of the Cancer Council.

I went to see the lanky young man again at the end of 2016, and reminded him about the cost savings.

“Hmm… I don’t know why the Treasurer doesn’t invest in palliative care” he lamented, but again, nothing happened.

Then, one day in early 2017. Premier Mike Baird resigns. The Treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian, becomes Premier. And my lanky young man, Dominic Perrottet, becomes Treasurer.

And what do you know? He did something!

Our ask of $25M a year was announced in the May 2017 Budget – and what’s more, he asked me where it was most important to allocate.

You can bet I stressed rural NSW and New England.

Now every rural Local Health District has received funding for an additional palliative care physician. 

The journey is not over, and there’s still much work to be done, but this is how advocacy works – slowly, in the background, one action building on the one before – and why persistence, and determination, and resilience is so important.

If you see something wrong, speak up, because you never know who might hear you in this beautiful country we call Australia.

On that note, I’d like to thank the Walcha Council for inviting me to wonderful Walcha, and thank you for listening.

Happy Australia Day everyone – enjoy everything on offer, and my best wishes for the coming year.

Thank you.

Dr Yvonne McMaster OAM

Walcha Australia Day Ambassador 2018


March update: Newcomers and nerves

Status report

Fresh air: Shakeups in both the State and Federal Health Ministries following the appointment of Gladys Berejiklian as Premier are cause for quiet confidence. The new Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, has already agreed to speak at the Cancer Council’s Northern Sydney palliative care campaign launch, occurring Tuesday May 16 at 7:30pm – save the date. On the floor too, Hazzard has spoken eloquently about the need for more palliative care specialist doctors and nurses in response to a question from Greg Piper – an exchange which led to the abrupt removal of Clayton Barr from the chamber. You can read the transcript here, as well as why Jillian Skinner will not be missed in some parts of rural NSW.

Talk of the town: Tamworth has made headlines recently thanks to the ABC, as news of the woeful ‘1960s standards’ of palliative care in the region reached a national audience through the 7pm News, and in-depth interviews on ABC Radio. In Southern NSW, discussions about the state of care in Bega and the South Coast were aired. Timed with ministerial changes, this coverage has proven persuasive in Parliament.

Nerves tested: Changes have shaken palliative care services in Hunter New England, with the loss of the wonderful, innovative Susan Newton who had been in Maitland for 10 years – Newton is the creator of The Virtual Hospice programme for patients, their families, and caretakers – and Professor Katy Clark from Newcastle, following her appointment as Director of Palliative Care for the Northern Sydney LHD. Professor Clark’s Newcastle position remains vacant. Meanwhile, we exposed threats to repeal the Gold Standard 24/7 palliative care nursing service in Newcastle early this year. With great support from the local media and members Tim Crakanthorp and Greg Piper, as well as the ABC, Minister Brad Hazzard has since safeguarded the service.

Time to act: In light of these stories above, I urge you to collect signatures on our petition to increase funding for palliative care across the state. Thanks to a combined effort with the Cancer Council’s CanAct network and the I Care About Palliative Care campaign, we are currently sitting at 84,779 signatures – each time we get 10,000 we force another debate in Parliament. You can read more about our combined effort with the Cancer Council in Dubbo here, as well as CanAct’s stories of palliative care across NSW, and palliative care pledge.

Vital reading

‘Ten Questions’ by the Nurses and Midwives Association: Pertinent handouts for people about to enter an aged care facility.

Have your say on Single Aged Care Quality Framework Consultations’: A development to watch and challenge if the proposed changes could adversely affect the care that people in aged care facilities receive.

On Respect’: A terrific piece by the EOL Professionals blog which explains why palliative care is not everyone’s business.

Stop Accepting Death’: Dr Diane Meier talks to Stat News about how overthinking our own mortality can sap joy from life now.

The Death Talker: What we need to know to help us talk about death’: A moving and informative tome by palliative nurse Molly Carlile. Available online via Amazon, Booktopia, or in your local bookstore.

Aged Care Providers Central to Community Led Palliative Care’: The Australian Ageing Agenda explores why GPs can’t be asked to wear two hats when it comes to palliative care.

How Caring For a Dying Husband Made Life Worth Living’: The best seven months of Tracy Grant’s life were the months she spent caring for her husband with terminal cancer (PBS video).

A Word With… Yvonne McMaster’: I was recently profiled for Health Consumers NSW, the result being this lovely piece on my (and our) advocacy efforts.

Where we are at the end of 2016

Since our fourth Parliamentary debate in September, we’re seeing plans and talk about palliative care pick up in all parts of the state – but despite vocal campaigning, there is still incommensurate action on behalf of the Government.

As the year comes to an end, now is a useful time to assess where we stand so we might zero in on the areas which need more pushing throughout 2017.

Cancer Council campaigning

Talk about palliative care in the media is thanks in large part to the Cancer Council’s vigorous new campaign – I Care For Palliative Care.

This campaign is in full swing – with a meeting with the Premier and Health Minister in July, November saw the launch of the ‘Planning For Change’ event, attended by CAN advocates from all over NSW, including several of our Push for Palliative Ambassadors. The Cancer Council is asking for funding for at least 10 more specialist palliative physicians and 129 additional specialist palliative nurses across NSW, with provisions for the culturally appropriate care of Indigenous Australians.

To this end, the campaign has produced a book of heart-wrenching real life stories which illustrate all too sadly what happens when palliative care is in short supply. Off the back of this activity, media stories have been published in Albury and Tamworth, with the call for pledges making headlines in Dubbo.

To help with the campaign, please consider signing the Cancer Council’s pledge if you haven’t done so already, and share with your contacts far and wide.

Movements around the state

The ACI Palliative Care Network Blueprint for Palliative Care was launched earlier this year, and is now being worked though, slowly but steadily, by some of the Local Health Districts. The process right now is on assessing what needs to be improved in order to meet the “Ten Essential Components” of care included in the blueprint, which include access to specialist palliative care.

In good news, it has been confirmed that there will be a new palliative care unit at the beautiful Mona Vale Hospital site. In Wagga, builders have been appointed for the construction of the Forrest Centre. The centre has been billed as a 10 bed hospice – my understanding is that it is a slow stream palliative care unit within an aged care facility. You can find out more here.

The much-needed palliative physician position for Albury is now being advertised, while progress in Maitland is disasterous following the recent resignation of Maitland’s inspirational palliative physician.

Meanwhile, the NSW Audit Office has begun investigating palliative care data across the state.

News from our Ambassadors

At the end of the year, we now have 56 Ambassadors across the state attuned to the palliative care shortages in their local communities. Their news points consistently to black holes in specialist staff availability and palliative care units – see which areas you would like to get involved with in the new year:

On the Central Coast, we have an energetic group of advocates headed by Oana McBride and Margaret Pearce of the Tuggerah Lions Club, pushing for more specialist palliative care staff and a designated palliative care unit to be included in the grounds of Wyong Hospital as it is rebuilt.

The plight is similar in Orange, with the Push For Palliative community there focused on the inclusion of a palliative care unit in the new hospital, and more specialist palliative care staff. Fundraising by the Manning Valley (Taree) group is helping to assist their community when they need palliative care, and to advocate for more specialist availability more broadly.

Meanwhile, Lucy Haslam and Mitch Williams in Tamworth are strenuously calling for a full time specialist physician, many more nurses, and allied health. The need is so great as the region has currently only one FTE palliative care nurse for a local population of 60,000 – with many more in the broader district.

Signatures on our petition to increase funding to palliative care stand at 84,529.

Some inspiration…

I recently attended PCNSW’s 2016 conference in Broken Hill at which the Health Minister spoke and conceded, “I do realise that we must still do much more.”

Among the presenters, including Sarah Wenham, Melissa Cumming, and Anthoulla Mohamudally, all of whom spoke magnificently, was a moving presentation by BJ Miller. If you haven’t heard BJ speak before, his renowned TED talk, now viewed 4.7 million times, is a must-watch and powerful reminder of just how important palliative care is.

See you in 2017!

Our Petition in Parliament

On Thursday September 15, we had our third debate in Parliament for our petition demanding increased government funding for specialist palliative care in NSW. The turnout was terrific, with both galleries full to brimming over and some senior Ministers in the Chamber too!

It started with the Health Minister, Jillian Skinner who said “the NSW Government is committed to ensuring that NSW residents receive appropriate care that meets their palliative and end of life care needs”. She outlined what had already been done by her government, especially the end of life care packages which have already helped about 5,000 people over three years – a drop in the bucket in NSW which has an annual death rate of 47,000!

She put some of the responsibility for palliative care provision on the Local Health Districts and asserted that “the number of specialist medical and nursing staff alone is not necessarily a good measure of the extent to which the needs of people who are dying and their families and carers are met.”

She went on to say that, “the Government is committed to growing the palliative care workforce and has been since 2011”, but later speaks of the (only) seven additional training positions for physicians which have been created since 2011.  With so few funded positions created for palliative physician training the past five years, it is little wonder that (as she says) “recruitment…..of staff specialists is particularly challenging”.

The second speaker for the Government, Mr Adam Crouch, essentially repeated what the Minister had said but slipped in one thing which could help in some areas, namely “the NSW Government will be exploring options to develop social impact investment initiatives to compliment existing palliative care”. That could mean that an NGO or other body could value-add to what the existing palliative care services are doing in a cost-effective way. We all know that palliative care, whether it is provided in the community, in aged care facilities or in acute hospitals, is cost-effective.

In response were three excellent and heartfelt speeches from three Labor members: Member for Maitland, Jenny Aitchison; Member for the Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle; and Member for Wyong, David Harris. All spoke supportively of the demands made by the 83,335 petitioners, namely for better resourcing of the specialist palliative care workforce.

Trish Doyle (pictured below) really got to the crux of the issue – that properly funding specialist palliative care would relieve suffering while relieving much pressure on the Government purse. She cited Dr Anthony Ireland’s and my research to say that “an investment of $27 million would reduce costs elsewhere in the health system by some $140 million, with reduced presentations at emergency departments and shorter average length of stay for patients who attend a hospital”.

We ended the day with photographs on the steps of NSW Parliament House, with the group joined by Jenny Aitchinson and Trish Doyle.

Once again, my many thanks to everyone who was able to make it on the day from far and wide – from Wagga, Maitland, Southern Highlands and the Central Coast. And to those who sent their well wishes in their absence. Your presence and support definitely made an impact on the day – let’s keep pushing!

You can read the entire transcript of the debate here.

Palliative care debate in NSW Parliament, September 15

A quick one! Next Thursday, September 15, marks an important date for our campaign. This is the date our petition for greater palliative care funding will be debated in NSW Parliament for the third (and hopefully final) time.

Join us 4:30pm on Thursday, September 15th (arrive early)
At NSW Parliament House, 6 Macquarie St Sydney

To get to this stage is in itself a truly monumental achievement – over 83,000 signatures, two debates in Parliament, and a state-wide movement has led to this moment. Let’s fill the gallery and make sure we’re heard!

Victorian end of life and palliative care framework

I heard it had $7.2M funding. ? annual or over 4 years?

The Victorian government has released the long awaited end of life and palliative care framework. The framework aims to deliver care where and when people require it and ensure people from all walks of life can determine what happens to them at the end of their life. It recognises that palliative care services alone cannot meet the growing demand that our society will require for care in the final stage of life.

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Orange Push For Palliative – forum recap

Vision from the Orange Push For Palliative

Late last month, the very organised Tracy Wilkinson, along with Jen Hazelton and many other Push For Palliative volunteers in Orange, organised what was a very successful forum which saw over 350 in attendance, from the local community, health community, the media and politics.

Scroll down for access to full-length videos of each speaker from the day – including Gail and Juliette O’Brien, Dr Joseph McRae, A/Prof Amanda Walker, a panel discussion and open forum session. Use these as resources to spread the word amongst your friends and loved ones!

  • The day started with formalities – a welcome from Mayor of Orange City Council Mr John Davis, and welcome to country by Mr Jamie Newman of the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service.
  • The audience then heard an emotionally charged speech from Gail and Juliette O’Brien, wife and daughter of the late Dr Chris O’Brien, and a harrowing first-hand account of Chris’s last few days.
“The cruel irony of it, his own death such a mess, and after he has done so much.” – Juliette O’Brien
  • The next few talks were from Government and LHD representatives. Chief Health Officer of Public & Population Health, representing the Hon. Jillian Skinner, Dr Kerry Chant spoke about the NSW Government Plan for palliative care 2012-2016 but focussed on advance care planning.
  • Richard Cheney, the District Director of Allied Health for Western NSW LHD, and Catherine Nowlan General Manager of the Orange Health Service then took the stage to discuss current plans and future directions. The audience was largely unimpressed, particularly by comments that the old Orange Base Hospital never had any sort of palliative care ward.
  • Local GP, Dr Joseph McRae received a standing ovation for his rousing speech, almost in direct rebuttal to Catherine and Richard’s presentation, about the need for palliative care in Orange, and the role General Practitioners can play in the last days of life.
  • A hard act to follow, the next speech was by myself, Dr Yvonne McMaster, in which I wrapped up the actual, sobering state of palliative care around NSW – and a little bit of the history around our Push For Palliative.
“At the sunset of our lives, may the way you pass away, be the way you want it to be.” – A/Prof Amanda Walker
  • A/Prof Amanda Walker, the Clinical Advisor to the CEC End of Life Care, and Senior Staff Specialist in Palliative Medicine for the SWSLHD (and self-confessed cat lady!) provided a very helpful, heartfelt and highly entertaining speech on Advance Care Directives – how to write them, how to communicate them, what they can and cannot do. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the subject.
  • A change of pace for the rest of the afternoon – the audience heard two short stories from the experience of two carers and local voices from the Orange community, Alison Dutton and Bev Glover.
  • Donna Moody, the First Assistant Secretary of the Ageing and Aged Care Services Division of the Commonwealth Department of Health, spoke helpfully about the Commonwealth Government’s role in end of life care and aged care – providing information, signposts and resources to help navigate the current complex system and get the most out of it.
  • This was followed by a panel discussion, facilitated by Michael Croke, featuring Ruth Jones (Director of Cancer Services & Innovation WLHD), Dr Louis Christie (Palliative Care Services Medical Officer, OHS/LHD), Dr Ken Hazelton (General Practitioner), with Jamie Newman (Aboriginal Medical Service) and myself returning to the stage.
  • Finally, it was time for the audience to have their say. Push For Palliative volunteers took multiple small groups of 5-10 audience members to jot down collective thoughts on what ideal palliative care provision would look like in Orange. The results have since been collated and will inform future advocacy.

You can access all the videos from the day here.