Australia's first anaesthetic for a surgical procedure was administered at St. John's Hospital in the Tasmanian town of Launceston in June 1847. This was less than 12 months after what is generally recognised as the world's first anaesthetic for surgery - which took place on 16 October 1846, in Boston, in the United States.
Up until the 1950's, anaesthetics were given in Australia by general practitioners, surgeons or hospital resident doctors. However it was becoming more obvious that anaesthesia was a specialised field requiring its own education and qualifications and in 1952 the Faculty of Anaesthetists was created within the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
In Ballarat, three of the doctors providing anaesthetic services decided to become full time specialist anaesthetists and formed the ANAESTHETIC GROUP, BALLARAT in 1966. Dr J.”Bill" Dick, Dr Syd Giddy and Dr Heather Lopert obtained their Fellowship qualifications from the Faculty of Anaesthetists and commenced practice.
At this time, anaesthesia was a very different business to the well-established profession of today. The anaesthetists carried their drugs and machines around with them. Syringes were made of glass and needles had to be resharpened. Anaesthesia was provided by thiopentone, halothane and ether. The only monitoring for patient safety was a finger on the pulse and a blood pressure cuff. There were no recovery rooms, patients were sent straight back to the ward after their surgery, where they stayed for many days or weeks before returning home.
In 1966, Syd Giddy formed the Ballarat Base Hospital department of Anaesthesia which has always had very close ties with the Anaesthetic Group. In 1973, the department gained recognition as a training post for the Faculty of Anaesthesia and all of our anaesthetists have been involved with the teaching of anaesthetists in training to this day.
Our group has also been closely involved with the development of Intensive Care in Australia. Syd Giddy was responsible for the development of the Base Hospitals first Intensive Care Unit; a 2 bed unit opened in 1967. This was probably the third such unit opened in Australia as the first unit was only opened in Sydney in 1966. The unit was run by Dr Giddy until the arrival of Dr A.D. Sutherland in 1987. Dr Sutherland had Fellowship qualifications in Intensive Care and Anaesthesia and was the Director of Ballarat Health Services ICU.
Dr Heather Lopert left Ballarat for Canberra in 1975 but the group was subsequently joined by Dr John Oswald (full time Director of Anaesthesia for Ballarat Health Services until 2004), Dr Graeme Clarke and Dr Peep Toom over the next few years. Since then our practice has seen steady growth in numbers. Many of the anaesthetists now in our group did some of their training at the Ballarat Base Hospital and returned to careers in the town.