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Janne Graham: a reflection by David Pearson

11 December 2018

Recently at our conference celebrating 40 years of consumer health advocacy, HCCA awarded Janne Graham our first ever life membership. Janne has been an HCCA member and advocate since the early days , and her understated, yet powerful and persistent advocacy work has been an inspiration to many of the people who are active members of HCCA. One of them is David Pearson. David is a new HCCA member who has spent time on the other side of the committee table from Janne in his working life. Now (semi) retired, we hope he will find time to put everything he’s learnt into his passion for consumer advocacy!


In 1997, I was appointed to a position in the Commonwealth Health Department that, amongst other things, serviced a significant policy committee – the Australian Pharmaceutical Advisory Council (APAC).

This group consisted of representatives of over 30 organisations that had a partnership role in implementing Australia’s National Medicines Policy.  Chaired at the time by the indefatigable Prof Lloyd Sansom, there were medical practitioners and other clinicians, nurses, pharmacists, reps from the pharmaceutical industry, government, the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector, and two health consumer reps – one nominated from the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia, and one nominated by the Consumers’ Health Forum (CHF).  The CHF rep was Janne Graham.

The work was challenging, but rewarding.  While the Council no longer exists, history will recall its groundbreaking work in improving the quality use of medicines by all Australians, its success in making the case for action to address medicine access barriers experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and improving the medicine safety of the some of the most vulnerable medicine takers in the country – residents of aged care facilities. During my five year tenure with APAC, I learnt more than a few lessons about how good policy can be developed, and change people’s lives.  But probably the most startling lesson I learnt during that time was the power of good representation, and most particularly consumer representation.  That lesson was taught to me, and to others around the APAC table, by Janne Graham.

Given the breadth of interests around the Council table, discussions were often described as robust.  Janne listened respectfully to all points of view.  In respecting others’ points of view, she earned respect for hers. Her view would then usually delivered as a short speech to a silent and attentive audience that would cut through the issues and present a sensible and needed solution to a problem largely created by vested interests.

In Janne’s view, the Council’s work was to improve the patient’s journey.  To improve the healthcare system.  To make the complex simpler.  To help those who needed the most help.  It was inspirational watching Janne work.  Janne was no stranger to chronic health issues.  And yet her personal issues were not what she talked about or dwelled upon; rather, her lived experience drove her strength of conviction at the APAC table, advocating for change for others.

Another lesson learnt from Janne was about accountability of decisions.  It was not good enough for a decision to be made; responsible parties needed to ‘own’ the decision, and work on actions promised within the agreed timeframe.  Janne made no apologies about calling for those commitments to be given.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity of working with Janne Graham.

David Pearson, HCCA member

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