10 March 2023

Auxiliary committee winds up, marking end of era at Canberra Hospital

| Travis Radford
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Seven Canberra Hospital Auxiliary Service volunteers slicing into the auxiliary service's 50th anniversary cake.

Canberra Hospital auxiliary service volunteers Carol Johnston, Pearl Hore, Judith McNay, Trevor Sharkie, Carmen Hayhoe, Anne McNeilly and Helen Read at the service’s 50th anniversary celebration in September. Photo: ACT Government.

After 50 years of community work, Canberra Hospital’s long-serving auxiliary committee has handed over the reins to the Canberra Hospital Foundation.

The mostly volunteer-run service, which was responsible for running the hospital fundraising tuckshop among other duties, held its last meeting recently.

Trevor Sharkie, who has served on the auxiliary service since 2012, including as president for six years, said the mood was sombre.

“The committee met the Monday prior to that and that was even worse for me because around the table, there was only one other member that had been there longer than I had,” he said.

“It was really sad to say: ‘This is our last meeting and I’ll see you all on Friday. But for this committee, we’re closing and that’s it. We don’t have another meeting’.”

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith paid tribute to the auxiliary service, which raised $4.2 million for the hospital over half a century of operation.

“This is an outstanding achievement and is much appreciated by everyone at Canberra Health Services and the broader community,” she said.

“Thank you to everyone who has been involved in the auxiliary committee and as a volunteer.”

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Mr Sharkie said he was most proud of raising funds for medical equipment and for nursing staff to do further training and attend conferences, as far afield as London in the past month.

“Even though we’re closed, we’ve still got a couple of the nursing staff that are going away this week,” he said.

“And it’s just knowing that without them [auxiliary service], they probably wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Mr Sharkie said he had discussed the importance of investing in the professional development of nurses with the Canberra Hospital Foundation and they had agreed to continue financing it.

The foundation will also continue to operate the auxiliary shop and vital services, including guiding patients around the hospital and driving them to and from the oncology centre.

Some auxiliary duties, which had already ceased prior to the foundation’s takeover, from a library service down to clearing away old flowers, will not be reinstated.

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Mr Sharkie said the service had grown from 10 members in 1972 to 145 members just prior to COVID-19, before dropping to around 42 members, in part due to mask-wearing requirements.

He said not all of the remaining members were active and only six out of the seven committee roles could ultimately be filled, forcing the service’s closure.

“[The remaining] members were doing a lot of work and it wasn’t right for them to be doing all this work because they’re volunteers,” he said.

“For the last 12 months … I was acting president, treasurer, minutes secretary and equipment officer.”

But Mr Sharkie said a number of auxiliary service members would continue to volunteer for the foundation and encouraged others to sign up.

“It’s an amazing thing to do. You feel good. You know you’re doing good for these people and you’re helping the hospital where they can’t hire people,” he said.

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