Lasting legacy from‘dedicated’ doctor

Posted on September 22, 2011

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By Peter Jean
Health Reporter – Canberra Times 21st September 2011

Canberra’s indigenous and medical communities are mourning the loss of Aboriginal health service medical director ‘‘Dr Pete’’ Sharp who died at the weekend after a short battle with cancer.

Peter Sharp was medical director at the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Services for 22 years where he won the respect and trust of generations of local Aboriginal people.

He was awarded the ACT Local Hero Award in 2008, the Australian
Medical Association Excellence in Health Care Award in 2009 and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia last year.

The 52-year-old was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in May.

Chief Minister and Health Minister Katy Gallagher said Dr Sharp had made an unmatched contribution to indigenous health in the ACT.
‘‘He was an inspirational and dedicated doctor, a leader in his field and simply a lovely man,’’ Ms Gallagher said. ‘‘His contribution to indigenous health in Canberra is unmatched by any other person and whilst he will be sorely missed by all, his legacy will be everlasting.’’

Winnunga Nimmityjah chief executive Julie Tongs said Dr Sharp’s death was a huge loss for the indigenous community and his partner Carolyn Patterson, a midwife with Winnunga.
‘‘He was a very kind, gentle man and he was a listener: he would sit back and listen and then he’d make a statement. He’d never jump in,’’ Ms Tongs said. ‘‘He was always respectful of where he worked and he always said it was an honour and a privilege to work at Winnunga. He was a very humble man.’’

Dr Sharp’s work included conducting weekly clinics for Aboriginal inmates of prisons and juvenile detention centres. In addition to working at the health service, Dr Sharp was a member of the ACT AMA board.

In an interview with The Canberra Times last year, Dr Sharp said he had been inspired to continue working at Winnunga for so many years because of the success the team had achieved in improving health outcomes for indigenous people, including through increased vaccination rates and better maternal health care. ‘‘The fact that we’re busy every week means Aboriginal people are coming in,’’ he said. ‘‘Previously, many would not be attending a [health] service.’’ Dr Sharp first became involved in the health service when Ms
Patterson asked him to fill in for a doctor who was going away. At that time, the service was based in Civic and operated two hours a week with a doctor, two other health workers and a receptionist. It later moved to Ainslie and is now based in Narrabundah and has 60 health and administrative staff.

A public memorial service will be held for Dr Sharp at 11am on Friday at the Boomanulla Oval in Narrabundah.

RESPECT: Peter Sharp earned the trust of generations of local Aboriginal people.

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