After a seven-month stint in hospital in 2016, when he underwent major surgery to remove his stomach, bowel and rectum to save him from cancer, Graham ‘Richo’ Richardson is no stranger to being prodded and poked by doctors and nurses.
But, following a recent short stay at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the 68-year-old political commentator says it is the nursing staff who are the “true heroes” of Australian hospitals.
In a passionate new opinion piece published in The Australian, the former Labor pollie praised the team of nurses who cared for him during his recent admission for fatigue last week for their “kindness and competence”.
“Theirs is a truly difficult job. They deal with vomit and excrement every day but can still smile. Their stoicism amazes me. The only way you could perform their tasks is to have a real passion for helping people,” he said.
“In the early 1980s when the surgeons strike was in full flight, I remember telling Neville Wran and Bob Hawke that you can’t run hospitals without doctors. I was only half-right: you can’t run hospitals without nurses, either. They never seem to go on strike and yet whatever as a society we are paying them is not enough.
“The kindness and competence of Anthea, Lily, Daisy, Avril, Donna, Sunny, Reece, Albert, Jing and all the others I don’t have space to mention are the true heroes who never get awards and medals. What’s more, they don’t seek that kind of recognition. Their reward is alleviating pain and suffering. There is honour surging in every one of them.”
The Labor stalwart, a minister in the Hawke/Keating governments, was admitted to hospital two-years ago for the gruelling 18-hour op to remove several organs, having been originally diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer – chondrosarcoma – in 1999.
Chondrosarcoma is a cancer composed of cells derived from transformed cells that produce cartilage, it usually begins in the bones but sometimes occurs in the soft tissue near bones.
Richo went on to point out a number of flaws in Australia’s health system, criticising the allocated public funding for catering in public hospitals. However he finished the piece by describing Australia’s health service as “just about the best” in the world.
He added: “There are weaknesses in our hospitals. Just why a miserable $10 a day is allocated to feed each patient is a mystery. Public hospital food is plain dreadful. That said, if you have to get sick, get sick in Australia where we have just about the best health system in the world. Rich or poor, in our country you get looked after pretty darn well.”