In 2005, a Danish doctor, Frede Donskov, came to Westmead Hospital to gain clinical and research experience as part of his oncology training.
No one could have realised it then, but this was the beginning of a warm and fruitful relationship between the Sydney West Cancer Network and Denmark.
During his time at Westmead, Dr Donskov worked with Professor Paul Harnett on cancer care projects outside the hospital and on developing the role of nurse care co-ordinators.
When he returned to Denmark in 2007, Dr Donskov took many ideas for reforming health services there. He subsequently brought a number of high-level Danish delegations to see the work being done at Westmead, and to encourage sharing of ideas and expertise.
Dr Donskov, now at Aarhus University Hospital, and Professor Harnett continue to collaborate on research and service improvement projects.
A major part of this work is sharing experiences and expertise between Denmark and Westmead, and setting up staff exchanges.
At the invitation of the Danish Cancer Society, Professor Harnett visited Copenhagen in March 2009 to give the keynote address at a seminar on modern trends in cancer care.
Professor Harnett says that in all of his dealings with his Danish colleagues “there has been a strong camaraderie and common interest”.
When the Crown Princess of Denmark visited us on 21 November last year, we were thrust into the international limelight as images from our hospital were shown around the world.
The renaming of the Westmead Cancer Care Centre as The Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre Westmead is of enormous significance for our patients, our staff, our services and our wider community.
Something like this doesn’t happen without rigorous checking and investigation by the relevant authorities. That we received the approval of the Court of Denmark is a pleasing tribute to the quality of our work. I am also delighted that Princess Mary’s association with our centre brings well-deserved recognition to the people of Sydney’s western suburbs.
We continue to work hard to ensure that our Royal connections help us achieve more funding and support.
A small group of us worked hard behind the scenes over a long period to achieve the connection. Some people thought our goal was an impossible dream but we are delighted that this particular dream came true. It reminds us all that anything is possible. That is the real value of our gift from Princess Mary.
Sharing the learning- Dr Frede Donskov
Six years ago, I left my home in Denmark to work with Professor Paul Harnett and his colleagues at Westmead Hospital as part of my training in cancer medicine.
My year at Westmead was a real eye opener. Cancer patients in NSW have excellent survival rates by world standards, and I learnt a lot that I took home to improve cancer care in Denmark.
I am delighted that the Danish-Westmead connection continues to grow.
Recently my hospital had the pleasure of hosting two Westmead specialists, Professor Phillip Yuile and Dr Ken Tiver, who are interested in our work in radiation therapy.
The University Hospital in Aarhus is a world leader in stereotactic body radiotherapy, which delivers very high-dose radiation to small sites deep within the body with very high accuracy. This enables control of cancer with limited toxicity.
During my time at Westmead, I was also very impressed by Australians’ attitude to health, and your awareness about the harms of smoking, drinking and overweight. This is something I would like to see more of in Denmark.
I am looking forward to continuing our collaborations in research and training, and am sure that our mutual connection with Crown Princess Mary will be of tremendous help. I hope that more of our staff will have the opportunity to visit The Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre Westmead for some “brain training” to learn about the Australian way of doing health and cancer care. We will have much to talk about − how we can work to improve the care and support for patients and their families in both of our countries.
Dr Donskov is a clinical oncologist at Aarhus University Hospital.
A Danish perspective – Ms Birthe Anderson
I usually work at one of the biggest hospitals in Denmark, the Aarhus University Hospital. But for three happy weeks earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work at The Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre at Westmead Hospital.
I was visiting as part of what is expected to become a regular exchange of staff between our two hospitals.
The thinking is that we can learn from each other, getting new ideas about how to improve the care of our patients.
I certainly learnt a lot during my visit – about the importance of the multidisciplinary team meetings and the important role that nurse care co-ordinators play in helping patients.
I noticed how the multidisciplinary team meetings and care co-ordinators for the different tumour groups work differently, according to the varying needs and experiences of their patients.
Now that I am back in Denmark, I am working to try to implement some of the approaches that I saw working at Westmead. I am also recommending the exchange to colleagues.
I have been a nurse for 30 years, but my time in Sydney was a reminder that there is always more to learn.
Mrs Anderson is a cancer nurse at Aarhus University Hospital.