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Townsville HHS top doc wins national award

Published:  25 January 2022

Townsville HHS’s chief medical officer has been honoured by emergency medicine’s peak body for the creation of a nationally adopted patient retrieval service and a 25-year track record in emergency care, medical leadership, and trainee education in Townsville and regional Queensland

Dr Niall Small was honoured with the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine’s (ACEM) Distinguished Service Award.

Niall, originally from Edinburgh, said when he came to Townsville as director of emergency in 1997 his goal was to focus on emergency medicine in a regional setting.

“I quickly realised that we needed to create a local training ground for emergency physicians who would stay in the north,” he said.

“There was also a clear need for a specialist-led aero-medical retrieval service to cover the vast expanse of North Queensland and get critically ill patients to hospital quickly and safely,” he said.

“It’s been very professionally satisfying to see that model adopted across the country,” he said.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service chief executive Kieran Keyes said Niall’s role with ACEM as a member of its rural, regional, and remote, and workforce committees over the past 12 years had included ‘healthy advocacy’.

“Niall is tenacious in his advocacy and this led, in no small measure, to ACEM’s focus on access to training, medical workforce, and health equity in regional communities in Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

Niall said he was passionate about building emergency capability in non-metropolitan areas.

“Emergency care in rural areas was very fragmented and I could see an obvious need for addressing not just the training issues but the workforce maldistribution in emergency medicine,” he said.

“It’s been important for me to remind colleagues at ACEM meetings in southern metropolitan areas that there were both large and small health services outside urban areas that didn’t have the same access to specialist-led emergency care or emergency training.

“We need to ensure that all communities have access to emergency medicine trainees and specialists.

“We need the right workforce and skills in the areas where the need is highest; there are many communities in parts of Australia that still don’t have access to high-quality emergency care, and we need to work on that.”

Niall said he was ‘particularly pleased’ that the award recognised his work in helping to establish the outreach emergency education and training program (EMET) which he believed had made a profound difference to emergency care in remote areas.

“There are a number of EMET sites around the country which support emergency training for not only doctors but for nurses and paramedics as well; it’s an incredibly successful program.

“Having been able to influence improved access to high-quality emergency care in isolated communities through my work with ACEM has been immensely satisfying.”

Emergency department co-director Dr Deanne Crosbie has worked with Niall for more than 25 years and described him as an ‘invaluable mentor’.

“I came to Townsville in 2006 intending to stay for two years and I’m still here because I couldn’t walk away from the great team Niall has built,” she said.

“He’s intuitive, reflective, and supportive, always leaving room for other people’s voices; he’s a wonderful boss, colleague, and friend.”

Emergency department director Dr Luke Lawton said Niall was an iconic figure in emergency medicine.

“He’s responsible for establishing emergency medicine in Townsville including building a specialist emergency workforce and a tertiary-level emergency service for North Queensland,” he said.

“Everything we have here today has grown from Niall's vison,” he said.

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