Drug and alcohol nurse ahead of her time

Margaret Cluff (née Watt)
15 November 1942 – 21 December 2007

Margaret Cluff, Registered Psychiatric Nurse, suddenly passed away in December, after a highly successful nursing career that spanned more than 40 years.

Born on the NSW North Coast and raised at Tumbulgum, Margaret was the eldest of six children. It was thought that Margaret entered into nursing after seeing her father suffer from a chronic illness requiring long periods of hospitalisation.

Margaret commenced her psychiatric training at Macquarie Hospital at North Ryde in 1965, going on to work at Parramatta Psychiatric Hospital in 1968 and Wisteria House.

Working under the medical directorship of Dr Stella Dalton at Wisteria in 1971, while drug and alcohol (D&A) research was in its initial stages, was the starting point of Margaret’s career. This partnership developed over many years and Margaret enjoyed the challenges of D&A. Of particular interest to Margaret were the younger people who were experimenting with opiates and then becoming addicted.

She was concerned about the number of people admitted numerous times for detoxification of drugs, particularly opiates, and recognised early their long-term prospects were limited due to relapse.

Margaret was also involved in the beginnings of the Wayback Committee, an organisation particularly concerned with the welfare of clients after discharge from hospital. Margaret’s belief in the methadone program and experience had shown her how dramatic an improvement could be made in people’s lives through this intervention. She continued her membership of the Wayback Committee.

As NUM of the original Wisteria Community Health, then Parramatta Drug and Alcohol Service, Fleet Street and eventually Blacktown Methadone Clinic, Margaret provided a non-judgemental, client-focused service. Her ability to reach and empathise with the most chaotic clients, and continue to advocate for them, is what she was all about.

Margaret treated each person she came across with respect and dignity. Her lateral thinking enabled decisions to be made after consideration of the impact for both the individual and the organisation. She supported the service throughout numerous changes and was an excellent source of information in relation to service provision. Margaret had acquired expert knowledge in relation to her role and the concept of Opioid Substitution Therapy service delivery. She was highly regarded and respected by anyone who had the opportunity to meet or work with her.

Margaret’s slight stature was no indication of the determination and strong-will she possessed. She had her own unique way of approaching things – even in death Margaret seemed to do it her way. Retirement was never an option.

Margaret dedicated her career to advocating the effectiveness of the methadone program and improving client outcomes within the field of D&A. Margaret, through her leadership skills and collaborative management style, developed a team of staff at Blacktown whose service provision is highly regarded throughout the area.

Margaret was an excellent communicator, always concise and precise. Her willingness and ability to share knowledge will be sadly missed. During her career, she was a mentor to many professionals and instrumental in their continuing education.

Through her ‘vision’ for the need to change, Margaret challenged mainstream views. She played an integral part in facilitating a change in treatment to meet the needs of opioid dependent people, which provided them the opportunity to change their lives.

The SWAHS Drug and Alcohol network has lost a valuable resource with Margaret’s passing, her wealth of experience and knowledge is irreplaceable.

By Karen Scrivener, CNS, Blacktown Methadone Unit, SWAHS Drug and Alcohol Network