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Tim Inglis - Perth pathologist partnering his profession in the Pacific

Tim Inglis of Melville in Perth believes not much beats field work.

As a civilian Pathologist he’s used to working in remote areas as the Public Health Microbiologist for Western Australia. As a reservist in the Australian Army’s 3rd Health Support Battalion, 55-year-old Major Tim Inglis has taken it one step further and deployed to Papua New Guinea as a member of the international humanitarian and assistance mission, Pacific Partnership 2013.

Tim is currently deployed in HMAS Tobruk to assist the townships of Wewak and Vanimo on the country’s northern coast. He said he is working with local health care facilities to improve their pathology procedures and overall ability to identify and treat infectious diseases.

“Some of the things we’re focussing on here are fundamentals in Australia like helping them with hospital procedures and data tracking of complex tests like biopsies,” he said. “These things aren’t costly or complicated but can improve the quality of pathological work immensely,” Tim added.
Tim is helping to set up a surgical pathology service at Wewak Hospital to reduce turnaround times for biopsy results.

Presently the only service is in the capital, Port Moresby and the backlog often means people must wait up to 12 months to receive the results of their tests.

“As a first step, we asked the Lab Manager at Wewak Hospital, Steven Tiwara, to prepare 10 different samples for testing,” he said. “Using the standard procedures and laboratory systems we have in Australia, Steven was able to quickly prepare the samples and set up a functional data tracking chain. I will now take them back to Australia where we can provide test results in weeks and not months,” he said.

Tim says his Pacific Partnership 2013 deployment is one of the highlights of his military career.

“I enjoy the field work and I’m used to it in my civilian job. To come here and help where there is a large burden of infectious diseases is challenging and confronting but profoundly rewarding because you realise your training can help in a place like this,” Tim said.

“For example, we were able to get cultures from a newborn infant that was struggling to survive. By using a simple digital camera and using the blood culture system we use in Australia, we were able to provide the results to a paediatrician within a day and have the right antibiotics prescribed,” he said.

Despite the large workload the local health practitioners face daily, Major Inglis hopes the focus on training and sustained improvement of practices will continue to make a difference.

“On top of the clinical assistance and teaching work we’re doing here now, I hope that this mission can inform junior Medical Officers across the ADF and build their skills sets so if they ever need to respond to an incident in the region, they come in with real world lessons behind them,” Tim concluded.

Tim will return to his dual civilian occupations with Path West and the University of Western Australia at the end of his current mission.

Pacific Partnership 2013 is an annual humanitarian and civic assistance mission aimed at strengthening international relationships with partner and host nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

HMAS Tobruk is transporting a combined contingent of Australian Defence Force and United States military personnel including doctors, nurses, dentists, environmental health officers, medics, engineers and a veterinarian.

A team of 20 Japanese personnel have also joined Tobruk for the ship’s visit to Vanimo. HMAS Tobruk and her embarked medical contingent will return to Australia in late July.