Darwin Day Surgery opens it’s new premises

The new Darwin Day Surgery located within the Casuarina Health Precinct opened it’s doors in October 2012, offering Territorians greater access to the optimal healthcare services they deserve.

Darwin Day Surgery is the brainchild of registered nurses Maureen Schaffer and Joanne Kovac, who teamed up with Darwin’s only resident plastic surgeon, Dr Ravi Mahajani, in 2007 to open the first free-standing day-care surgery in the NT. They quickly outgrew the original premises at Fannie Bay as the local community flocked towards their level of personalised care. “Our aim has always been to provide a really high standard of service to Territorians through intimate and personalised care”, says Maureen, who has 20 years’ theatre experience. An additional 20 staff have been handpicked from the best in the field to join the Darwin Day Surgery team. In an industry that struggles to find nursing staff they have a waiting list of people who want to work for them. All the staff are fully qualified and experienced but most importantly they are all caring and friendly.

“Darwin Day Surgery is able to provide an alternative choice for patients requiring a range of procedures under general anaesthetic”, says Joanne. Resident plastic surgeon, Dr Ravi Mahajani, performs a range of cosmetic and plastic surgical procedures. He is highly regarded and sought after for his skills as well as his gentle and caring nature. Dr Mahajani excels in hand surgery, repairing tendons and nerves, and he was involved with the repairing of wounds suffered by Timor Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta in 2008.

Darwin Day Surgery is the first and only known nurse-initiated day-care surgery in Australia and this is truly an inspiration to other nurses. They have also been I recognised nationally, winning the 2011 Telstra Micro-business Award for the NT and then both the National Telstra Micro-business Award and the AMP Innovation Award.

Darwin Day Surgery director Maureen Schaffer

More than $2 million has been spent on the new purpose-built facility, which boasts state-of-the-art equipment including the latest platform scopes released in May 2012, which exist nowhere else in the NT. The low-temperature chemical steriliser is also brand new technology, the only one in the Territory and it can sterilise the surgery’s own scopes. In fact none of the equipment or supplies leave the facility for cleaning, therefore eliminating any chance of cross-contamination. The linen, including blankets, sheets and staff uniform scrubs, are all disposable. The medical representatives spent time leading up to the opening ensuring all staff were certified competent with the new equipment, and stayed on hand for the first few weeks for the transition. It’s this level of high quality service being delivered that makes Darwin Day Surgery stand out.

The fit-out of the new Darwin Day Surgery was completed by ISIS Darwin. Under the guidance of project manager Ray they transformed the blank canvas into a premium healthcare facility featuring spacious light-filled rooms, well designed flow of space and a natural colour palette in just 12 weeks.


Darwin Day Surgery is accessible only through referrals from GPs and specialists. One of the great advantages Darwin Day Surgery offers is more flexible hours that allow operating on weekends and after hours. Clients also never have to come back the following day for a procedure, as the surgery operates until everyone on the list has been seen.


Darwin Day Surgery is successful because it offers a personalised service from admission through to discharge with expert staff making clients feel safe and special. A pre-admission appointment is held to determine if clients fit the criteria for day surgery. This is important because client health and safety are paramount and any risks are therefore avoided.


Clients won’t find crowded waiting rooms and lengthy periods of boredom waiting to be taken through to theatre at Darwin Day Surgery. Rather than being admitted in the morning and waiting for potentially hours along with dozens of other patients, the staff here call clients to come in just before the procedure. It’s this intimate and personalised care that sets Darwin Day Surgery above the rest.


There are two large theatre rooms designated to the two main services: plastic and reconstructive surgeries in Theatre I and scopes such as endoscopies and colonoscopies in Theatre 2. The theatres do not feel cold or clinical like most alternatives. With timber-tone floors, bleached timber-tone walls and pale cream paint they feel much more comfortable and homely.


Recovery has two stages. In Stage 1 recovery clients are monitored closely by nursing staff as they come out from under anaesthetic. Once cleared to enter Stage 2 recovery, clients recline in the comfy armchairs and have something to eat and drink. Following Stage 2 recovery, clients head downstairs to the ‘transit lounge’ where they can relax on the lounge and have a cup of tea or coffee while waiting to be collected by a family member of friend. Darwin Day Surgery is now conveniently located at Level 1, 7a Gsell St Wanguri

Meet the Telstra Business Award 2011 winners: Darwin Day Surgery

Opening a private day surgery was the only way Darwin could keep its one resident plastic surgeon. The bold move is bringing other benefits for the community, too.

Business Owner Micro-Business Award

Darwin nurses Joanne Kovac and Maureen Schaffer were working in their own  private community nursing service five years ago, when plastic surgeon Dr Ravi Mahajani approached them with an issue which could have a significant impact on the future of people in Darwin who needed plastic and reconstructive surgery.

“Ravi came to us because his operating time at the private hospital was being reduced. He was faced with the option of either setting up something privately with us, or going back to Adelaide. We couldn’t afford to lose him, because he was our only resident plastic surgeon in Darwin,” Ms Schaffer explains.

So the three joined forces and set up Darwin Day Surgery in 2007. The day surgery specialises in removing lesions such as skin cancers, as well as minor plastic surgery and hand procedures. It’s now doing 500 procedures a year and has helped reduce waiting lists for elective surgery in the Northern Territory. However self-funding such a complex business was daunting, and neither Kovac nor Schaffer drew a wage in the first few months.

Schaffer recalls the early days of the business: “It was very exciting because we were able to provide different choices for people. We’ve never had that before. People can come to our surgery for quite private and discreet procedures. You know what it’s like in Darwin. Everybody knows everybody.”

Schaffer believes the main driver behind the success of Darwin Day Surgery its approach to patients. “We are successful because we offer a personalised service from admission through to discharge with expert staff  who make clients feel safe and special. There is no waiting around for hours for surgery: the time frame from arrival to discharge is usually about two hours, depending on the length of surgery.”

Expansion is the next step. A new facility with two operating theatres will allow the Day Surgery to do a wider range of procedures under general anaesthetic.  According to Schaffer, this will increase the business’s operational capacity by 80 per cent.

The big dream of Darwin Day Surgery’s owners is it will initiate significant changes in the health sector for Territorians. As Schaffer explains, she’d like to see the day when patients don’t have to wait long periods to have their procedures and have more options for where and how they are treated.

The new expanded Day Surgery will act as a complimentary health service to the other already existing services here in Darwin.  The hope is that we will work together to provide optimal services for the people of the Territory.

Lessons from Maureen Schaffer

  • Staff – “Staff can make or break your business – ensure they are qualified, friendly and know their stuff. Client satisfaction also needs to be formalised – if you don’t know about their complaints or suggestions for improving things, you can’t act on them.”
  • Clients – “Know your target clientele, what they want and be able to provide it. Client satisfaction needs to be formalised – if you don’t know their issues, complaints or suggestions for improvement you can’t act upon them.”
  • Be approachable – “If your staff don’t feel comfortable talking to you about issues it creates disharmony and disunity which in turn effects your business and business productivity.”
  • Take initiative – “No one is going to do it for you, and there is no such thing as a free ride. If you want to succeed you need to go out there and do it for yourself.”

AMP Innovation Award

Medical staff shortages, limited operating hours and long waiting lists at local hospitals continue to drive innovation at Darwin Day Surgery. Owned and operated by two registered nurses, with a surgeon as business partner, the surgery opened in 2007 as an alternative to Darwin’s two main hospitals for procedures such as minor plastic and hand surgery and skin cancer removal.

Clients book their surgeries on a day convenient to them and are operated on, recovered and discharged within two hours of arrival.

Darwin Day Surgery is now building a new, two-theatre facility in Palmerston to broaden non-elective services and further reduce waiting lists. To fund the new venture, the business negotiated with a developer to build and sell them the facility as part of a new healthcare precinct. In return, Darwin Day Surgery introduced the developer to allied health professionals to take tenancy of remaining space, introducing more medical services to the growing region.

“Darwin Day Surgery is able to provide a cheaper and timely alternative to hospitalisation, and is a model for the future pathway of health care in the Northern Territory.” – Joanne Kovac, Director.