The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging greater action to close the gap and achieve health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The 2021 Close the Gap Report “Leadership and Legacy Through Crises: Keeping our Mob Safe” was today launched via webinar on National Close the Gap Day.
Deputy Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and descendant of the Warnman people, Dr Kali Hayward, said that the report contained some critical insights into improving the health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
“The report tells us that when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities successfully led the way in the COVID-19 response,” she said.
“As a result, the rates of this virus have been six times lower in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities compared to the rest of the Australian population.
“This demonstrates what can happen when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, organisations and communities are able to make decisions about their health. The successful health control measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 were not imposed on these communities but rather were led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leaders and services.
“This approach worked because they knew how to work with government and deliver culturally safe and localised solutions.
“We must learn from this and make sure that the leadership of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and Health Services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a permanent fixture.”
Dr Hayward said that GPs have a vital role to play in achieving health equality.
“The strong involvement of trusted primary health practitioners can make a difference to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.
“The focus should not just be on reactively fixing health problems when they arise but helping our patients to access the healthcare and services they need to thrive. We also need to acknowledge and act on racism in healthcare - stopping racism is how we can make a huge difference to health outcomes.
“Ensuring a culturally safe healthcare experience for patients is something to which doctors and practice teams should definitely dedicate a lot of time and effort towards. If you have a GP who is properly trained to deliver high quality and culturally safe healthcare, they are going to be a better GP for all patients.
“The RACGP is also focussed on increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GPs in the health workforce.
“Our last health of the nation report found that on the workforce, education and training front there are encouraging signs. For example, in 2018, there were 74 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GPs registered and employed - an increase from 50 in 2015.
“Also, last year we had more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students - this has increased from 265 in 2014. This report also found that that more Indigenous medical graduates choose general practice compared to other specialities too – that is wonderful news.
“Let’s keep up this momentum and get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people practicing medicine, especially in general practice. As an Aboriginal GP myself, I understand the life circumstances of Aboriginal patients and how important it is to reconnect with Country and family and that can make a real difference.”
RACGP spokesperson and Palawa Woman, Dr Tanya Schramm, said that more work needed to be done to improve Indigenous health outcomes.
“We know what to do and there are many hardworking GPs who have the right idea,” she said.
Last year, an impressive doctor in Sydney, Dr Josie Guyer, won an RACGP award and she is exactly right in saying that when working within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities it is about empowering people.
“While we need to support communities with the education and tools to improve their health and wellbeing, long term change requires sustained commitment from all levels of government.
“Without much needed investment and infrastructure, we cannot achieve health equity.”
More information concerning the Close the Gap Campaign can be found here.