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December 2012

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Retiring Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson with Minister for Health David Davis and former ministers Bronwyn Pike and John Thwaites.

Farewell to health watchdog with real bite and pitch perfect bark!

The guest list read like a who’s who of Victoria as the people’s Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson was farewelled in Melbourne at a function hosted by Health Minister David Davis.

Mr Davis was joined by former Premier Joan Kirner, Health Ministers John Thwaites and Bronwyn Pike and a host of luminaries to honour the harmonica-playing Beth who is retiring after 16 years in the job.

Also in attendance with her partner, Dave, was her 92-year-old mother, Isa, from Hastings who is still mowing her own lawn.

Speeches by Andrea Coote, Michael Gorton and Robyne Schwarz, all former Chairs of the Health Services Review Council, praised Beth as a formidable champion of Victorian patients.

They recounted how Beth had bravely battled breast cancer and how she, unfashionably, outed herself as incontinent – becoming a champion of the cause.

She intended to retire in April this year but Mr Davis asked her to stay on and assist a panel of experts examine the watchdog role she has played for the last 15 years.

Beth Wilson became Victoria’s Health Services Commissioner on May 1, 1997.

A lawyer by training, Beth has had a longstanding interest in medico/legal and ethical issues.

As the patients’ advocate she has seen both the good and bad side of the health system – from terminally-ill cancer patients duped by dodgy practitioners and parents grieving the loss of a child to women sexually abused by medical practitioners who took advantage of their privileged position and duty of care.

Her compassion and ability to identify with everyone she comes into contact with has contributed to her longevity in the role – not just one or two terms but 16 years of outstanding service.

Blessed with a wicked sense of humour, an infectious laugh and a love of singing, playing mandolin, guitar and her trusty harmonica, Beth’s talents also came to the fore in the way that she goes about her role with complete professionalism.

In an interview earlier this year Beth acknowledged health is a risky area.

‘When human beings are working with human beings in risky situations, there will be mistakes made. What’s really important is how we treat people who have been disadvantaged or injured and what we learn so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

‘Overwhelmingly, people who come to us are not really wanting to blame, what they want is an explanation and, where appropriate, an apology.

‘That’s incredibly powerful.

‘When they get a clear explanation and they understand that, they’re actually quite forgiving.’

A passionate advocate for equality in the workplace, Beth has an on-going commitment to mentoring women, especially young women lawyers, and providing them with her insights on leadership.

This is something Beth will continue to do, because she will always have a pet project, plan or perhaps a new musical instrument to master.