Woman Cahill Lambert, Anne

Health Consumer Activist

Written by Kate Moore, Australian National University

Anne Cahill Lambert was born in Melbourne in 1955, the second of identical twins in a family of 6 children. In 1962 her family settled in Canberra. Anne was educated at Catholic schools, and then learned shorthand and typing at a technical school in Western Australia.

Initially Anne worked as a base grade typist in the Australian Public service in Canberra but her talents were soon recognised. In 1979 she became Personal Assistant to the Chair of the Jamieson Commission of Inquiry into the efficiency and administration of hospitals. That job led to her becoming 'mesmerised' by hospital administration. She moved to Melbourne where she worked in a number of hospitals.(http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/anne-cahill-lambert/)

In the 1980s Anne gained a Bachelor of Health Administration at the University of NSW. Anne married and had a son. The family moved to Canberra in 1992, and in 1994 Anne became the first CEO of a new association to represent women's (and later children's) hospitals, a job that she loved. In 1995 she was awarded a Master's degree in Public Administration at the University of Canberra.

In 2005 Anne was diagnosed as having fibrosing alveolitis, a rare, degenerative lung disease. As she became increasingly unwell, she realised that there were problems in the health system that made the lives of health consumers unnecessarily difficult. She had to give up her job, and was dependent on oxygen. Oxygen is not subsidised by government, unlike other medical essentials, and is very expensive. She realised that many other people were in a similar situation and started to lobby governments about this problem. The issue became a national one, and Anne soon became known as The Oxygen Woman. She succeeded in persuading the ACT Government to provide subsidised oxygen - the first jurisdiction to do so. She then turned her attention to improving the organ transplant scheme, which she says was dysfunctional. Kevin Rudd, himself the recipient of a transplanted heart valve, was Prime Minister. He put more funding into the scheme and established the Australian Organ Donation and Transplantation Authority.

Anne was appointed to its council to represent consumers, but found herself stereotyped as 'only a consumer' - which made it difficult to be recognised and respected for the wide range of skills and experience gained through her working life and her experience. She has not been deterred and speaks of the liberating experience of allowing herself to be 'as rude to the Chairperson as he is to me' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/anne-cahill-lambert/). Her experience as a consumer allows Anne to bring a practical approach to committee work.

In spite of her achievements, Anne does not see herself as a leader in the field - she says that others have worked harder and longer than she has. Her advice to other women taking up this sort of role is that we should never forget the work of our foremothers. 'They stuck at it and we should as well. We are on this earth to make it a better place, and we should leave it in a better state than when we arrived.' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/anne-cahill-lambert/)

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