Safety first for Queensland Health’s new director-general: ‘My heart still beats for the bush’

By Stephen Easton

Monday September 23, 2019

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Highly experienced physician and clinical safety expert Dr John Wakefield has been appointed as the director-general of Queensland Health, following the recent retirement of Michael Walsh after four years in the position.

“I’m a country doctor and my heart still beats for the bush,” said Wakefield, who was formerly a deputy director-general and the inaugural head of Clinical Excellence Queensland.

He said he was honoured to take on the role, describing it as “an exciting challenge leading a state-of-the-art system with world-class staff” that he would not take lightly and proposing to focus on making public healthcare more accessible to people living in rural and remote areas.

“I understand the complexities of delivering health services in a state as vast and diverse as Queensland. I’ve worked side-by-side with nurses and allied health professionals, with paramedics and other doctors, with police and emergency services workers – I know the difference the frontline makes.

Dr John Wakefield

“Everything we do comes back to our patients; they are the reason we do what we do.

“And it’s no secret patient safety is a core value of mine. I want Queenslanders to have full confidence as our system continues to learn and grow our quest for patient safety and improved outcomes.”

Announcing the appointment on Friday, Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles said Wakefield had over 30 years’ experience in medicine and health governance including experience in senior roles in the department.

“He is well-qualified for what is one of the Queensland Government’s most demanding jobs and he has the respect of his peers and staff,” Miles said.

“With his background as a doctor and health administrator, I have no doubt John will thrive in this role and continue the great legacy left by former director-general Michael Walsh.”

The minister said Wakefield possessed “an excellent understanding of the issues facing Queensland” and noted the new director-general’s experience as a clinician and in management roles in the rural, regional and tertiary public health sector.

“Recently, as head of CEQ, he led important reforms in areas such as maternity services, mental health, nursing, termination of pregnancy legislation, and has devoted a lot of attention to improving service quality, safety for patients and conditions for clinicians.

“Recently, I worked with John closely in his role as Chair of the Rural Maternity Taskforce and witnessed his dedication to resolving an issue affecting Queensland’s country communities.”

Wakefield has done a lot of work in the area of patient safety, which earned him a public service medal in 2011. Following a fellowship with the Veterans Affairs National Centre for Patient Safety in the United States, he established the Queensland Health Patient Safety Centre in 2004 and a network of patient safety officers across the state.

He played a leading role in developing a legislative framework for incident analysis to reduce preventable adverse events in hospitals, has worked closely with the Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Healthcare, and also built a successful program to develop Queensland’s clinical leaders from trainee to executive level with over 1000 graduates each year.

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