Helping doctors make a difference

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Dr Christiane Lawin-Bruessel with the kids of the “Saltwater” people of the NT.
LIBBY HILL discovers the important work of a little-known Canberra medical charity trust

A GROUP of Canberra doctors are making a difference to the health of indigenous people in remote communities in the NT thanks to the work of the John James Memorial Foundation.

Since 2007, the John James Memorial Foundation, a medical charity that uses the income from the John James Hospital to fund charitable activities locally and interstate, has been sending teams of volunteer doctors to Katherine.

Foundation chairman and orthopedic surgeon, Associate Prof Paul Smith, says the NT Specialist Volunteer Program significantly reduces waiting lists and provides medical services that wouldn’t otherwise get to Katherine.

“For people in these remote communities, the waiting time [for an orthopedic appointment] was, in practical terms, infinite,” he says. But in just one visit, the team was able to cut the waiting list by one third, reducing a huge backlog.

“The waiting list is now down to about one year, which is a huge difference,” he says.

Foundation CEO Phil Greenwood says specialists in orthopedics, ear, nose and throat, dental and obstetrics travel to Katherine and complete hundreds of patient consultations and theatre procedures.

“We work with the Katherine hospital to find out what is the need and then we build a team around that,” Mr Greenwood says. “It’s an integrated approach and Katherine hospital is really grateful for what we do.”

Chairman Smith says it’s not difficult to find doctors willing to volunteer to help people in remote communities.

“We are all trained in a system where there is a tradition of putting more back in than we get out,” he says.

[tabs style=”default”] [tab title=”Behind the foundation”]Born in its current form, from the sale of the John James Hospital business in 2006, the foundation owns the hospital, land and buildings, now known as the John James Healthcare Campus, in Deakin. The hospital buildings are leased, on a long-term basis, to Calvary Private Healthcare. According to the foundation’s 2009 annual report, the annual income is about $4.5 million.[/tab] [tab title=”Man behind the name”]

Dr John James during his army service during World War I.
THE John James Memorial Hospital in Deakin (now the Calvary John James Hospital) and the foundation were named in honour of Dr John Alexander James, the distinguished surgeon who was appointed medical superintendent of Canberra Hospital in 1926.
Over the following three years, Dr James supervised the redevelopment of the Canberra Hospital from what was derisively called “a first-aid post” of 20 beds to a modern general hospital of more than 60 beds with a well-equipped operating theatre and an X-ray unit.
Dr James was appointed to the Canberra Hospital as a visiting and honorary medical officer, and from 1936 he was appointed as a member of the newly established Federal Capital Territory’s Medical Board.
In the mid 1950s as he was nearing 70, Dr James was still in active practice.
CS Daley, the secretary of The Federal Capital Commission, is quoted as saying that securing James’ services for The Canberra Hospital was “the best day’s work the commission ever did… we had to have a first-class surgeon in the national capital… all those politicians”.
John James ceased practice in 1963, died on February 20, 1965, and is buried in Canberra cemetery. [/tab] [/tabs]

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