1992 Sidney Sax Medallist - Dr Diana Horvath

Diana's achievements and extraordinary commitment to improving health care in Australia are so well known, that I am sure her award will come as no surprise to anyone in this audience.

You may not be sure of her extensive qualifications and work history. Diana graduated in Medicine from Sydney University in 1968, and has also completed a Masters in Health Planning from the University of New South Wales.

Her service commitment is exemplified by her continuing involvement as a member of the medical faculties of both universities. She is also a Fellow of the Royal College of Medical Administrators; the Australian College of Health Services Executives; and the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

After undertaking her internship at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney much of her early career was involved with the development of community health services in New South Wales. In 1974 she became the first community physician at Mount Druitt Centre in the early days of the Western Metropolitan Health Region.

Diana established community nurses at all schools and a back-up service at the Mount Druitt shopping centre which became the pattern for community health services delivery in Western Sydney.

This experience led to her becoming Principal Adviser in Community Services in the Health Commission of New South Wales. These were the important years for the establishment of the National Community Health Program under the Whitlam Government. Diana was responsible for the direction of the program in New South Wales, and for negotiating with the Federal Health Department and the Hospitals and Health Services Commission. As many of you know, the Hospitals and Health Services Commission was chaired by Dr Sid Sax, the person whose contribution to Australian health services is honoured by this medal. Dr Sax tells me that he first met Diana at this time and commented that one of her great qualities was that "she knew to get things done."

Many of us have great aspirations and good ideas, but find it hard to translate them into reality. Diana has always had the strategic sense to involve other people in her vision, and the persistence to ensure that things happen. In 1977 Diana returned to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where she had undertaken her internship. Initially she worked within the Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; then Deputy Director of Medical Services; and in 1982 the Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive for the Hospital.

It was in 1980 that she first became a council member of the New South Wales branch of AHA, which subsequently became part of the Health Services Association of New South Wales. While the Sax Medal is for contribution to the health sector rather than just to the Australian Hospital Association, it is worth noting that she has been a National Councillor of AHA since 1981. She was also heavily involved in the organisation of the International Hospital Federation Congress in Sydney in 1981.

Her work at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital culminated with becoming General Superintendent in 1987, which made her responsible for the management of the total hospital complex. Her career at Royal Prince Alfred makes it apparent that personal and institutional loyalty is also a hallmark of Diana's character.

Since 1989 she has been the Area Director of Health Services for the Eastern Sydney Area Health Service. That position requires an intimate knowledge of the workings of the public health sector, so that planning for future health services and the needs of the community can be effectively put into place. Eastern Sydney Area Health Service faces the challenge of many inner city areas in having several teaching hospitals with long established centres of clinical excellence, but a declining population as our cities continue their suburban speed. The Area is fortunate to have a person of the calibre of Diana Horvath to assist them in achieving this difficult balance of services, resources and population needs.

It is apparent that the guiding value in Diana's career has been improving the health status of the community. There are many hospital managers who are highly skilled and dedicated to the organisational success of their institutions. Others have a commitment to promoting clinical excellence in their hospital. Few are able to marry those skins in a way that shapes health service provision for the benefit of the community.

This overall health care perspective was recognised in Diana's appointment as the Chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council in 1991. She had previously been a member of the NH&MRC's Medical Research Committee, and chair of the Health Care Committee from 1988-1990. The NH&MRC is the peak body for shaping health care priorities and standards in this country, so in many senses it can be said that Diana Horvath has achieved the pinnacle of her profession.

She has also served since 1988 as a member of the board of the Health Insurance Commission, which is responsible for administration of the Medicare benefits program and the Medibank Private Health insurance fund.

How any individual can meet all these commitments, let alone excel in them, is difficult to answer. I am told that mainly it is a work ethic that maintains regular 12 hour work days including many weekends. Of course modem technology helps, but Diana is the only person I know who can keep an office phone, a mobile phone and two fax machines, all simultaneously engaged. She is Australian Airlines favourite corporate customer, and drives in a manner that suggests the next meeting she attends will be her last.

It is a mystery to many that she always arrives in the right place at the right time, but this reflects her extraordinary personal organisation and dedication. Many people with those qualities become rather single-minded and insular, but Diana always manages to do it with style and humility.

These must be the qualities that have enabled her to combine work career, public service and being an exemplary wife and mother. One daughter, Lisa, is just finishing Medicine at Sydney University, and is getting married in November. The other daughter, Penny, is doing an Arts/Law Degree at the ANU here in Canberra.

Diana's family and career success reflects her partnership with John, who has his own successful career in medicine and public service. I suspect that marriage to Diana has seen John cast in the role of house-husband more often than would be customary for an eminent physician.

Diana Horvath has lived a life of commitment and achievement that daunts us mere mortals. She has achieved so much, but is still only in mid-career.

The Australian Hospital Association hopes that recognition through the award of the Sax Medal, will further encourage Diana in her career. Her example should be inspiring to all of us.