Tribute - Dr George Merridew

Ms Armitage (Launceston) - Today I pay tribute to Launceston anaesthetist Dr Colin George Merridew. Better known as George, he was born in Devonport, Tasmania in 1948. George retired at the end of last month after a distinguished career spanning five decades in which he did a lot for his profession in Tasmania, in Australia and internationally.

As a medical student at the University of Tasmania, George joined the Royal Australian Air Force undergraduate scholarship scheme. After graduating in 1972 he served in the permanent air force as a medical officer for four years and then undertook specialist anaesthesia training in Adelaide from 1979 to 1983. After that, George worked in England, Hong Kong and the United States of America, accompanied by his wife Sarah and their two small children. The family returned to Australia in 1986 when George joined the Launceston General Hospital as a specialist anaesthetist, staying for 31 years.

George's clinical roles included surgical and obstetric anaesthesia, intensive care medicine and pain medicine. George expanded the Launceston General Hospital's pain management capability, personally treating over 400 cancer pain and 1200 chronic non-cancer pain patients. He introduced medical techniques when they were new or uncommon nationally. Examples are intravenous patient-controlled analgesia and various uses for epidural local anaesthesia. George was Director of Anaesthesia at the Launceston General Hospital from 2003 to 2008 and continued clinical practice there until his retirement last month.

Medical retrieval is another of George's specialties. Medical retrieval involves a transfer between hospitals of patients on life support. His logistical and clinical expertise in this area began with the air force in 1975. He organised patient transfers using Hercules aircraft and occasionally by helicopter. Later he worked in the South Australian retrieval service. George helped develop the Tasmanian medical retrieval service, which began formally in 1995. From 1997 he acted as its medical director for five years, with essential help from town planner Mr Bob Graham. George drove the building of the Launceston General Hospital's helipad, which was commissioned in 2002 and is used about once a month. At the same time, George was active in the Tasmanian Royal Flying Doctor Service for patient transfers and organisational governance since 1995. He was president from 2009 to 2012 and was awarded life membership when he retired from the board this year.

His retrieval work overlapped considerably with his service in the Royal Australian Air Force Specialist Reserve. In the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombing, George was on the ground at Denpasar Airport. There he prioritised the transfer of 23 bombing victims, flew to Darwin with 12 of them and, later the same day, escorted another 10 from Darwin to Perth. In 2004 George received the Chief of the Defence Force's commendation for this work.

George's other military deployments to peacekeeping or conflict zones included Irian Jaya, Bougainville, Rwanda, East Timor, Bali and Iraq. He was chairman of the Australian Defence Force Anaesthesia Consultative Group from 2000 to 2004. George learnt and taught anaesthesia techniques that were safe in disaster zones, where conventional aesthetic equipment becomes logistically unsafe. He undertook extensive equipment bench testing and conducted remote area anaesthesia training to an eventual total of over 400 military and civilian anaesthetists. He chaired various disaster response committees of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.

A key theme of George's career is acquiring and sharing knowledge. His other committee roles include 17 years as treasurer of the Australian Pain Relief Association and seven years on the Australian Resuscitation Council. He has presented many papers at state, national and international conferences. He has a strong interest in the history of medicine and anaesthesia.

I wish George well in retirement. He remains on our state medical board and continues as a senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania Medical School. I pay tribute to Dr George Merridew and thank him for the contributions he made during his outstanding career.

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