One of Eastern Heart Clinic’s senior interventional cardiologists, Dr Mark Pitney, has been recognised for his service to cardiology with an Order of Australia in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

When asked about the honour, Dr Pitney was quick to point out that there were many other people behind the many projects he’s been recognised for.

“When you ask what the award means to me, it makes me a bit uneasy because the award is for things that really wouldn’t have happened without a whole lot of people.”


Driving force behind Sutherland Hospital’s ‘cath lab’

Dr Pitney has also played a pivotal role at our sister clinic, Sutherland Heart Clinic, since before it began more than 15 years ago, when there was a need for a “cath lab”, or cardiac catheterisation laboratory, at Sutherland Hospital.

But he is keen to first give credit to many others – including volunteers – who helped instigate and establish what’s now known as the Sutherland Heart Clinic, and the important role that it plays in the local community today.

“It was not a straightforward thing to organise, and I was just one of a large group of people that worked very hard for a long period of time to make that happen.”

“We had very strong community support, especially from Colleen Loder, who was the head of the community network for Sutherland Hospital. We also had the support of cardiologists from the hospital, as well as our sister practice, Eastern Heart Clinic.”

“We also knew it was going to save the government money and provide a better model of care than what was originally available.”

Now, Sutherland Hospital is one of only 11 hospitals in NSW that are part of the Pre-Hospital Assessment for Primary Angioplasty (PAPA) system. That’s unusual for a smaller hospital, Dr Pitney says, as it’s normally the major teaching hospitals that are involved in ambulance triage.

“All those other hospitals are much bigger than Sutherland Hospital. From that perspective, Sutherland certainly punches above its weight.”

In the event of a significant cardiac event in the community, the triage system enables an on-call cardiologist at the hospital to be contacted quickly, so that by the time the ambulance arrives at Sutherland Hospital, a cardiologist is ready and waiting, and the patient can receive immediate treatment.

“How it works in practice, is that an ambulance attends to a person suspected of having an acute cardiac event and conducts an ECG on the spot. This data is sent directly to the on-call cardiologist’s phone. The cardiologist can then look at the ECG straight away and make a decision. If it appears to be a heart attack, they call everyone in.”

“By the time the ambulance gets to the hospital, we’re usually set up and ready to go, so the ambulance can come straight through the emergency department and straight to the cath lab,” he said.

That saves precious time, which can make the difference between life and death.

“On average, we save about an hour, and time is heart muscle, and heart muscle is life,” Dr Pitney says.

“It’s the best model for treating heart attacks, and the people in the Sutherland Shire are very lucky that they have access to this type of emergency care model for acute cardiac events,” he said.

Otherwise, patients in the Sutherland area have to travel to St George or Liverpool Hospitals, which is a much longer trip.


Founded an annual meeting for cardiologists to avoid complications

Dr Pitney was also recognised as the instigator for the Action Day Meeting for cardiology doctors, nurses, radiographers, fellows and registrars, which is supported and coordinated by the Sutherland Heart Clinic.

In 2010, Dr Pitney founded this important annual meeting where participants can present to their peers any cases that did not proceed as planned, so these can be reviewed and discussed to ensure optimum outcomes for all future cases.

This meeting now attracts more than 500 cardiologists and other healthcare professionals working in the field from around Australia.

“Over a 10-year period, it’s grown from a pretty small meeting of 30 or 40 people to about 500 or 600.”


In medicine, success means everyone wins

“The thing I like about our job is that everyone’s a winner,” Dr Pitney says.

In business or law, your success comes at someone else’s expense, he says.

“Medicine is one of those rare things where you can achieve what you want to achieve and it’s at no one’s expense.

“In our game, if someone comes in having a heart attack and you fix them up, everyone’s a winner. That’s the most rewarding thing.”


Further research to save lives

In addition to a busy schedule of conducting clinical heart procedures, Eastern and Sutherland Heart Clinics are also vibrant centres of cardiology research. One of the research projects that Dr Pitney is working on is looking at the reasons why people don’t call an ambulance when they’re having a heart attack.

The research team is interviewing 100 patients who survived a heart attack, hoping to shed light on why they did – or did not – call an ambulance.

The findings of that project will help the ambulance service and government better target individuals who might be reluctant to call for emergency help.

“This will allow us to understand what’s stopping people from calling an ambulance, such as concern about fees, being too embarrassed, not feeling worthy enough, or not knowing how to.”


About Eastern Heart Clinic

Eastern Heart Clinic is an interventional cardiology clinic located at the Prince of Wales Hospital campus at Randwick in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

We are one of the largest and busiest interventional cardiology hospitals in Australia, performing more than 5,500 procedures annually.

Our team includes procedural cardiologists, clinical cardiologists, visiting cardiac and vascular surgeons, anaesthetists, radiographers, specialist nurses, theatre personnel and administrative staff.

We’re a unique health service in that we operate a private cardiology service within a major tertiary hospital. This means both private and public patients have access to this highly specialised service regardless of their referral source.

Our mission is to provide best practice in cardiovascular medicine, interventional cardiac studies, patient care, clinical teaching and research.

Learn more about our clinic, cardiology procedures, and what to expect if you’ll be visiting us for a procedure.