I listened this week with interest, and frustration, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament that Australia is “not on track to achieve the more important and more meaningful targets” in disadvantage of our First Peoples.
He made these comments while releasing the 2014 Closing the Gap report that disappointingly there’s been almost no progress in closing the life expectancy gap. Six years ago the Council of Australian Governments set specific targets for closing the gap between the First Peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.
In terms of life-expectancy, the goal is to close the gap with a generation – by 2031. There’s been little progress in this area, in fact the life-expectancy gap remains about a decade. Right now Indigenous men die more than 11 years younger than non-Indigenous men; and Indigenous women ten years earlier than other Australian women.
Australia’s first Indigenous Federal MP Ken Wyatt said “one of the health reforms I’d like to see is a sharper focus on frontline services, improved access to primary health care”.
I couldn’t agree more. We know that substantial investment in the primary health care sector, such as community-based chronic disease management, can prevent people from entering hospital in the first place. Primary health care benefits provide better value for money and outcomes than non-primary care approaches.
Health equality is an issue of national importance. Locally ACTML is committed to improving the access our First Peoples have to medication, allied health professionals, medical specialists, medical equipment and transport. Our Care Coordination and Supplementary Services (CCSS) team – and care coordinators within the Winnunga Nimmityjah team are funded under the Indigenous Chronic Disease Program and work closely with clients and their GPs to facilitate just this.
Chronic disease accounts for two-thirds of the premature deaths among our First Peoples. That’s why the CCSS program targets people with cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, respiratory or renal disease.
The programs are working closely with clients and their GPs to integrate and coordinate care. The Nuffield Trust, an independent source of evidence-based research and policy analysis for improving health care in the UK, has shown integrated care assists individuals where gaps in care, or poor care co-ordination, leads to adverse impacts. Integrated care is particularly helpful for people with chronic disease.
We know that care co-ordination is an effective service integration tool. Care Coordinators are assisting local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in an on-ground, grass-roots way each and every day. It starts by building trust with their clients which increases the ways in which they can help them. Without trust, you have nothing. The Care Coordinators assist to ‘navigate the system’ in the most practical and culturally sensitive way. Appointments are made with appropriate health professionals, and patients are often accompanied to their appointments. These practical things make all the difference to access. We’ve seen first-hand the benefits of linking patients in with culturally sensitive and accessible health – either at Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service or at a general practice.
The Prime Minister said that Indigenous affairs are close to his heart at the same time as acknowledging there’s a long way to go. In the meantime, we’ll keep integrating care at a local level and supporting our clients.