A word with … Yvonne McMaster
Yvonne, how did you get involved in health consumer advocacy?
I am a retired palliative care doctor. I had a support group for people with advanced cancer and they alerted me to the fact that funding in NSW had been cut for the palliative care service which I had worked for. Nobody else was doing anything about it. I then learned that palliative care in NSW had been underfunded for decades and that rural and regional NSW was much worse than metro.
Why is palliative care so important to you?
I know how bad things can be for people with major illnesses and also how much palliative care can do to help. It is the most rewarding job you can possibly do.
What are the three main tips you can give consumer representatives who want to petition the government or are just starting out?
- Governments respond to very large community pressure, or media pressure, or persistent pestering. Get a big community meeting, get it written up with photos, get onto the TV or radio where the interviewer has to also ask the Health Minister.
- When someone writes to their Local Member about a concern, that letter goes to the Minister’s office, then to either the Local Health District or to the Health Department. People have to explain why it is a problem. A lot of letters can help to change things. Don’t give up. Get more people to help. Work hard at it.
- Use social media. Start a Facebook page. Get onto Twitter. Work them both every day.
Is there something not a lot of people know about you that you think really helped in your advocacy work?
I really love generating excitement. I love working with people to do that.
If you could suggest just one read about the topic of palliative care or dying to our readers, what would it be?
Can I suggest two? The first is an especially good blog from a palliative care doctor. It is short enough but full of meaning and great understandings about what it is like to work in palliative care. Warning: there is one confusing thing. It talks about hospice because hospice in the US is about their unique and very good community palliative care service for the last six months of life.
And then I recommend the book Still Alice, about dementia. It really lets one understand what it is like to have dementia.