Interview with Dr John Wakefield

14 Oct 2019

Dr John Wakefield, self-described ‘Queensland country doctor’ took the baton after an extensive, global search to find a successor to Michael Walsh as Director-General, Queensland Health. Kevin Hardy spoke with John about the system and his leadership.

What excites you about QH and its potential?

There are many things that excite me about the Queensland Health. I will mention two attributes that I think set Queensland’s public health system apart from the rest. The first is the resilience of the organisation and its people. Overcoming massive distances, remoteness and natural disasters the Queenslander spirit shines through. No problem is too great; we just find a way to overcome it, providing healthcare to every person without fear or favour. It’s just who we are! The other attribute of Queensland Health which is really exciting how we can act as one for the benefit of all Queenslanders. Unlike many health systems, Queensland Health established and retains a state-wide approach to its key systems with patients the centre. Any clinician in any hospital can access any patient’s records wherever they present in Queensland, through the Viewer. This amazing resource can now be accessed by all GPs and will soon be extended to all residential aged care facilities.

What do you consider to be critical system leadership opportunities going forward?

We face many challenges in sustaining our healthcare system in the way that we know it today.

The key opportunities for leadership over the next 10 years are all about adapting and changing to:

What advantages does being a clinician potentially give you as DG?

I think having been a medical clinician and administrator in Queensland for 30 years in rural, regional and tertiary hospital settings, does give me a good understanding of the business of public healthcare delivery, and brings credibility. The relationships that I have developed over this time also is a significant asset to the role. I am also fortunate in having several very experienced mentors in senior government roles, who help me navigate aspects of the role.

You seem to have positive constructive relationships with Boards and CEOs. Why is that?

It starts with a relationship; being prepared to get to know people and their aspirations. I work to build on these relationships through practical support and assistance. For example, in my previous role I have developed an internal consultancy approach working with most of the health services to support their improvement strategies in areas such as leadership development, outpatients and elective surgery improvement. Finally, during periods of internal crisis in a Health Service, I look to provide direct support wherever I can. All this builds trust and mutual respect.

It starts with a relationship.

What has surprised you since taking the leadership baton?

It has been very ‘issues rich’ since I have taken on the DG role. This was not really a surprise but I am finding that I need to be more personally and physically disciplined to keep energy levels high to ensure I am on top of my game!

If there was one thing you would like to be remembered for, or the system be renowned for, what would it be?

All leaders stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.

As DG and with the leadership of the Department and Health Services, I would like to think that we shift the focus from widgets and production back to compassionate care for our people, and the patients and families they serve.

For our people – making it easier for them to deliver great care

For our patients, their families and their communities – to work together to deliver what matters most to them.