The private hospital sector in Australia continues to operate in a testing environment, but despite the ongoing challenges, St Vincent’s Health Australia’s Private Hospitals Division achieved a string of significant firsts during the year.

St Vincent’s Private Hospital Sydney’s Prof Phillip Stricker and A/Prof Louise Emmett began using an Australia-first surgical technique to target lymph nodes affected by cancer around the prostate.

In collaboration with the Netherlands Cancer Institute, the University Hospital Leiden, the Martini Clinic in Hamburg Germany, and Eurorad, the robot-assisted, radio-guided surgery involves injecting a technetium radioactive isotope which gets taken up by cancer cells around the prostate. Surgeons are then able to detect this isotope during the operation using this new probe to try and find where the cancer has spread.

Incidentally, Prof Stricker reached an incredible milestone during the year of 2,000 robotic prostatectomies, a first in NSW.

Other firsts for St Vincent’s Private Sydney for the year included:

  • The first successful Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (or TAVI, a minimally invasive procedure to fix a damaged aortic valve) in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere to utilise the transcaval technique, where patients with diseased or small veins and arteries – who have previously been deemed inappropriate for traditional TAVI procedures – have their aorta accessed through their femoral artery.
  • Dr Julia Crawford became the first woman in Australia to be robotic-trained in head and neck cancer surgery.

Dr Julia Crawford

  • The hospital became only the second facility globally to perform a wireless pacemaker implant using Medtronic’s SmartSync tablet programmer.
  • Hospital patient, Paul Foster, became the first person in Australia to receive keyhole surgical repair of a major artery near the heart outside of a clinical trial. Performed by Vascular Surgeon A/Prof Ravi Huilgol, Mr Foster had custom-made stents inserted through keyhole incisions in his groin and neck to mend the arch of his aorta which had turned into a life-threatening aneurysm.

Artist’s impression of the redeveloped St Vincent’s Private Hospital Sydney

St Vincent’s Private Sydney also continued the second-stage of its redevelopment – the refurbishment of its main building – following the completion of its new Sr Francis McGuigan Wing in 2018.

On the other side of Sydney harbour at the Mater, the hospital achieved a notable first by becoming the host of Australia’s first ‘live’ broadcast of a caesarean section as part of Operation Live.

Broadcast live (with a slight delay) on the Seven Network, the event was a franchise of the successful British version of the program, and featured the Mater’s Dr Steven Tan, a leading obstetrician and gynaecologist who has delivered over 10,000 babies during his career.

The Mater also partnered with the Delta Society Australia to introduce dog therapy to its oncology department. The hospital’s initiative is about recognising the special connection between humans and canines, and how they can bring comfort and companionship that can aid the healing process. Feedback from the Mater’s patients, doctors, carers and staff has been very positive, with many waiting eagerly for when ‘Lola’ and ‘Phoebe’ are on shift.

In Victoria, the team at St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne completed its 300th surgery with the Brainlab Airo. The hospital was the first private facility in Victoria to install Brainlab Airo technology in 2017, which allows for high-resolution, diagnostic-quality images intraoperatively. Acting as a kind of surgical GPS, the Airo enables surgeons to have far greater accuracy when visualising the field of surgery, with all scans can be taken in theatre and relayed to the surgeon in real time.

Another significant technological milestone was the hospital’s purchase of a new Da Vinci XI surgical system. The Da Vinci XI represents the next frontier for minimally invasive surgery and can be used across a spectrum of procedures in the areas of gynaecology, urology, thoracic, cardiac and general surgery.

And reflecting St Vincent’s Private Melbourne’s leading expertise in obstetrics, the hospital was ranked by Victorian perinatal performance indicator data as the number one facility in the state for successful vaginal births after caesarean (VBAC).

In terms of capital works, the year also saw the opening of a new theatre at the Kew facility.

Arguably St Vincent’s Melbourne Private’s ‘feel good’ story of the year was the birth of three boys by three sisters in the same week.

The birth of the children continued the family’s long association with St Vincent’s stretching five generations: not only did the baby boys’ grandmother work at St Vincent’s for 30 years, but so did her mother, and her mother’s mother.

Capping it off, she was also born at St Vincent’s along with her 11 siblings.

In Queensland, the major development for the year was St Vincent’s Health Australia’s full ownership acquisition of Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Northside Private Hospital from its 50 per cent partner, The Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (HSM).

The ownership transfer also included the HSM Sisters’ aged care services at Carseldine and Boondall, to be managed by St Vincent’s Care Services.

The HSM Sisters had jointly managed Holy Spirit Northside with SVHA for 17 years, but decided to divest their health and aged care portfolio to focus their work in the area of refugees, victims of human trafficking, dementia care, homeless women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Renamed St Vincent’s Private Hospital Northside, the move reflects the increasingly important role the north Brisbane hospital plays in the national SVHA network, and was in accordance with the HSM Sisters’ wishes.

To mark the acquisition, St Vincent’s Northside announced plans to build what will be Queensland’s most state-of-the-art hybrid theatre to open mid-2020.

Professor Phillip Stricker

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