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One on one time with patients is the high point of the day for geriatrician Dr Mary Britton
July 19, 2021
There is something about older patients and aged care that geriatrician Dr Mary Britton loves.
“I enjoy nothing better than getting to know my patients and supporting them in their health care,” Mary said.
She has recently joined the OCAV Council to which she brings the perspective of health care needs, not only for residents living in Liscombe House but also for independent and assisted living residents, and the aged care staff.
As a geriatrician and an OCAV Councillor, Mary sees her role as part doctor and part advocate for older people and the aged care workforce.
“Aged care is in the spotlight because of the findings from the Royal Commission into Quality Care and Ageing, COVID-19 and most recently making vaccinations mandatory,” Mary said.
“I don’t agree with making vaccinations mandatory for aged care staff and especially because we are not making it easy for them,” she said.
“Instead they are being blamed for something which is outside their control.”
She says that the mixed messaging about vaccines for health care workers and residents has been woeful from the start.
“First, they were told that they were in the first phase to be vaccinated, then it was residents only and staff had to make their own bookings, then there were issues of supply of Pfizer and concerns about Astra Zeneca,” she said.
For her, it demonstrates the lack of value that is attached to aged care workers by the system and politicians.
“The workforce is a difficult audience to reach, many work part-time, they are young and often their health literacy is not as strong as we think,” she added.
She is as concerned that the findings from the Royal Commission point the finger yet again at the workforce and that older people and their contribution to society was not valued by the community.
“What has happened over the years is that we have tried to do aged care on the cheap and we don’t pay staff enough. That has now caught up with us, the system is failing, and it has become costly to fix,” Mary said.
But it needn’t be expensive, according to Mary. There are many solutions and the four priority ones include educating the public to turn around ageist attitudes, stop penny pinching, educate and investi in training staff.
Mary had never intended to become a geriatrician. Her original idea was to become an endocrinologist specialising in diabetes. She trained in Glasgow in biochemistry and medicine, moved to London to research diabetes and study for her Masters.
In 1989, a year which made her both as a doctor and person, she travelled to Katete in Zambia to work as a consultant GP.
“It was the era of widespread HIV, many young people were dying, and I was outside my comfort zone. But I loved every minute,” Mary said.
She returned to the UK where she spent ten years working as Staff Governor at Homerton NHS Foundation Trust in London.
Mary came to Melbourne 12 years ago, working in Austin Health where she became Deputy and Acting Medical Director of Continuing Care. She has a special interest in cognitive impairment and delirium. She is a founder member of the Australasian Delirium Association and has been Chair of Austin Delirium and Cognitive Care Committee.
“No day is the same, there is always something to learn,” Mary said.
While the most enjoyable part of her working day is meeting with patients, the hardest part is to see older people lose independence.
“It is always a struggle to help my patients to maintain a balance between risk and safety, and support them in their wish to remain independent for as long as possible and encourage their families to allow their older relatives to take risks,” she said.
“Being risk-averse on behalf of a parent can contribute to their loneliness, sadness and depression,” Mary said.
Sanctuary is how artist Gillian Coates describes her home at Currie Park, OCAV’s village in Euroa. “When I go to Melbourne and I am heading back to Euroa, I can’t wait to get home to the peacefulness of this place. It is like a sanctuary for me."
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