Accepting a New Reality

The former CEO of Hunter Area Health Service, Professor Katherine McGrath, was the guest speaker at the first ACP Luncheon Network meeting for 2016 last Thursday. 

Over 45 people gathered at Fort Scratchley to listen to Professor McGrath tell the story of how she instigated significant change in the Hunter Region health system (and Newcastle landscape), and her advice on the best way to drive reform for the good of the whole community.

Part of Professor McGrath’s job when she was CEO of Hunter Area Health was gaining approval for the closure of the old Royal Newcastle Hospital and co-ordinating its move to the John Hunter Hospital campus. It was a huge job, with many stakeholders.

So how did she go about changing things while meeting the needs of the many stakeholder groups?

“The first job is to find your friends and partners. I was lucky enough to get Brian McGuigan on my team which was a great start. We also had the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, John Tate, onside, but not many others,” Professor McGrath recalled.

“We needed to ensure that it was a professional process and so we employed the people who had run the transition for BHP workers during the closure as they had been so successful. We looked at who was opposed to the changes, what our response was to the issues they raised and how we would be best placed to get our message out to the marketplace,” said Professor McGrath.

With opposition from the Health Minister, staff at the Royal and other groups, Professor McGrath and her team developed what they called the Newcastle Package which covered closing the Royal Newcastle Hospital, redeveloping Belmont Hospital, refurbishing the Mater Hospital and modernising the foreshore of Newcastle.

With Newcastle City Council on board, the team provided many opportunities for consultation and found that the ‘silent majority’ was supportive of the plan. Yet it still had to manage the medical and religious politics of the major stakeholders, as well as the media.

Eventually, after countless meetings and consultation, and with media backing, the plan was approved.

“In order to lead a group into a new reality we have to be able to develop these skills and they can be taught. I’m sure that no-one would want things to go back to the way they were. It’s worth the effort.

“Leaders need competency in driving performance and training key managers in change management,” said Professor McGrath.

Professor McGrath was enthusiastic in her praise of the health system in Newcastle, mentioning that the surgical process in our region is “second to none”.

“So much innovation in health started in Newcastle. This community is blessed to have the calibre of people within the health service in this region,” affirmed Professor McGrath.

The next meeting of the ACP Luncheon Network will take place on Thursday 5 May.
For more information visit the ACP diocesan page 
or P 4979 1142.

Professor McGrath was very generous with her time and spent the following morning speaking to over 100 senior female students from St Joseph's, Lochinvar and St Catherine's, Singleton on the topic of leadership. 

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Joanne Isaac Image
Joanne Isaac

Joanne is a Communications Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular columnist for Aurora Magazine.