From Wandin Valley to Canberra

One of the great things about growing up in the 80’s was watching every episode of A Country Practice. Now, for those who weren’t as lucky as I was, A Country Practice was a popular TV show focussed on the everyday stories of the residents of a small town, Wandin Valley and their local hospital. Every week lives were saved and rare illnesses were diagnosed by the local doctors and nurses. There was no doubt left in the viewer’s mind at the end of each week’s episode of the love those residents had for their hospital. Their lives revolved around it.

Now I know A Country Practice was a fictional story but I have always believed that local hospitals are a place where we all have a vested interest in seeing them doing well and taking pride in the work that is done there.

Recently there have been several stories published in the media on fundraising efforts and community support for public hospitals around the country. The ABC had a story on the Cooma community fundraising for oncology services, the Sydney media ran hard on “gold week” raising $2m for the Sydney Children’s Hospital and there was a heartfelt thankyou letter published in South Australia from a mother of a premmie baby, thanking the hospital for caring for her children.

Now these stories aren’t unusual ones. Hospitals save the lives of men, women and children every day, larger established hospitals have a great record in philanthropy and attracting donations from the community and small hospitals serving rural and remote communities always seem to have strong networks of locals who work tirelessly to increase the range of services offered so as to reduce the need to travel to the larger centres.

These articles got me thinking about what we are doing here in Canberra to continue to build strong community support for our local hospitals.   After all it’s in all of our interests to have those connections because if you or I or a family member gets really sick, that is where we will be treated. A family member of mine has had their life saved at Canberra Hospital and I have seen time and time again the miracles that are performed there. I myself have been a patient, both my parents were treated there during their terminal illnesses,  my 3 children have begun their lives there and 2 of them have returned to have their illnesses cured and their broken bones set. This must be the same for so many families here in Canberra.

As a tertiary hospital serving the region, the ACT’s public hospital system has connections that go much further than the borders, which for health purposes, are merely lines on a map – ignored by illness and health professionals alike. As it should be. At a recent meeting of regional mayors, the importance of the Canberra Hospital to those smaller towns that surround our city was crystal clear. Some towns even run a weekly bus service with a one stop destination: Canberra Hospital. They are proud of our hospital and Canberrans should feel proud of the important role our hospitals play in supporting regional communities.

The Canberra Hospital Foundation (www.thecanberrahospitalfoundation.org.au) was launched a couple of years ago now for two important reasons. The first was to act as the chief fundraising arm for the hospital and the second (and just as important a  job) was to  increase community support  for the hospital and to continue to build a sense of ownership and pride in our local hospital.

We already have a number of big and small businesses, including generous small local ones who support the work done at our hospitals, often without the public recognition they deserve. We also have many volunteers who donate their time to various activities across the hospitals adding up to thousands of hours every year.

Negative stories about health care facilities will always grab the headline but there is so much to be proud of happening right here in our local hospitals.

Every year over 100,000 of us will attend one of our hospitals’ emergency departments, 17,905 operations will be performed, thousands of treatments will be provided in paediatrics, approximately 700 premmie and sick babies will be cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit, over 200 people will require renal dialysis treatment just to keeping ailing organs functioning. If you are critically ill anywhere across the region you will most likely end up in our highly specialised intensive care unit and if you have cancer you will be cared for by the incredible staff from the Capital Region Cancer Service. Every year generous medical and nursing staff and volunteers donate their time and skills to save the lives of at least 4 children from overseas who could never dream of having access to a world class health system like ours.

These are only some of the of the services delivered every day by health professionals many of whom dedicate their service to the public system by choice. Incredible people doing an incredible job 24 hrs a day 7 days per week.

To have pride in your hospital system does not require the health system to be perfect. Health systems are human systems under enormous and increasing pressure from a growing, ageing and ailing community. The emergency departments are under pressure, demand for elective operations continues to grow – as fast as the waiting list decreases just as many, if not more, join the list and we know that demand for outpatient appointments grows as fast. The work to improve these areas is acknowledged and on-going. Continuous improvement in hospitals is core business and all hospitals – public, private, large or small have areas where improvements need to be made.

Canberrans pride themselves on being a caring community.  As we continue to rebuild and transform the public health system here it will be just as important, as the buildings are going up, that we are able to continue to develop our own local support base for the work that is done across our public health system.

And whilst the idyllic days (once we got over Molly’s untimely death) of Wandin Valley are well and truly over  I know that the sense of community spirit so well captured in that fictional small town is alive and well right here in Canberra.

p.s On the 4th August there will be a community open day showcasing Stage 1 of the new Centenary Women’s and Children’s Hopsital. I hope you can come down and take a look at the new facilities, the fabulous staff and take pride in the newest part of our public health system here in Canberra.