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Media release

Leading health bodies call for recommitment to Indigenous health as life expectancy gap widens

12 February 2018

This is a joint media release by the RACGP and NACCHO

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) are calling for all levels of government to work with, not for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce health disparity, after a recent report found the gap in life expectancy is widening.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found the gap is widening due to accelerated increases in the non-Indigenous population.

Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Associate Professor Peter O’Mara said the increasing gap in life expectancy shows a disengagement from the national strategies to improve health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

“To find out we are going backwards when it comes to health equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is extremely disappointing,” A/Prof O’Mara said.

“It is particularly upsetting to learn of this regress on the 10th Anniversary of the National Day of Apology.

“I encourage all Australians, not just our political leaders, to reflect upon what we have achieved since then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology, and to consider where we need to be.”

A/Prof O’Mara said governments have committed to ‘working with, not to’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but this commitment has not translated into meaningful engagement.

“The lack of action in response to The Redfern Statement and Uluru Statement from the Heart reflect this failure,” A/Prof O’Mara said.

“The engagement and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will decide the success or failure of future policy decisions.”

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chair, John Singer said the National Day of Apology takes on special significance this year as governments attempt to ‘refresh’ the Closing the Gap Strategy.

“The Apology is an important part of healing for Indigenous Australians. It acknowledged the significant trauma and grief suffered as a result of past policies, particularly the removal of children from their families,” Mr Singer said.

“However, the Close the Gap strategy has never been fully implemented. There has been a decrease in funding over the past five years to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services; the biggest impact has been to our members and affiliates. The Close the Gap refresh being considered by the COAG provides an opportunity to reflect upon and reform current policy settings and institutionalised thinking,” Mr Singer said.

The RACGP and NACCHO are calling on the government to acknowledge the critical role of primary healthcare, particularly the culturally responsive care offered by Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, as it considered the Closing the Gap Strategy this year.

“This will play a vital role in addressing health disparity and ensure we finally make progress,” A/Prof O’Mara said.