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Close the Gap healthcare report ‘mixed bag’

Close the Gap healthcare report 'mixed bag' - Featured Image

The eighth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Close the Gap report card has been released with mixed results for healthcare.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tabled the report in parliament, beginning his speech by speaking in an Aboriginal dialect.

“The headline statistics in today’s report do not recognise the diversity that exists in your culture, language and experiences,” he said.

However he conceded there had been mixed results on progress for several Closing the Gap targets.

Regarding healthcare, the target of halving the gap in child mortality by 2018 is on track however closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous is not considered to be on track.

Related: MJA – Indigenous health expenditure deficits obscured in Closing the Gap reports

Improvements to health and healthcare include:

  • Indigenous child mortality rates have fallen by 6 per cent since the 2008 baseline measurement, and the gap has narrowed by 34 per cent since 1998.
  • There have been improvements in access to primary health care services since 2009. The uptake of health assessments by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has nearly tripled over July 2009 –Jun 2014.
  • Medicare services claimed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people using General Practitioner Management Plans (GPMP) and team care arrangements (TCA) have doubled.
  • Pregnant women using antenatal care rose from 50% in 2010 to 52% in 2013.

Areas that are not on track include:

  • The gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation is not on track. Although there have been improvements from chronic diseases, particularly from circulatory disease, Indigenous cancer mortality rates are rising and the gap is widening.
  • More work needs to be done towards improving access to medicines – hospital patients from remote areas aren’t able to access prescriptions under the Close the Gap PBS Co-payment measure on discharge. These artificial barriers can cause some patients to go without their medicines.

Related: Smoking among a national sample of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health service staff

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, said it was encouraging that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Checks have increased and there had been improvement in infant and child health outcomes.

“The latest Report shows that there has been a mixed bag on progress in some of the health and social determinants of health indicators,” Professor Owler said.

“It is disappointing that the target to close the gap in life expectancy by 2013 is not on track.

“Above all, we need consistent funding and support from all governments to reach Close the Gap targets.

“And there must be genuine engagement with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in the delivery of health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman noted that racism can be a barrier for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing services.

“The Close the Gap Steering Committee’s Progress and Priorities report 2016 report released today also highlighted racism and institutional racism in services, which can act as a barrier to accessing health services.”

She said latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous Australians.

“It is unacceptable that Indigenous Australians are nearly three times more likely to be psychologically distressed than non-Indigenous Australians,” Ms Harman said.

“The health inequality gap clearly exists in mental as well as physical health and we need to address this if we are to reduce the alarming suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Related: MJA – General practitioners’ prescribing of lipid-lowering medications for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, 2001–2013

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said that there needs to be increased effort in order to see any improvement

“If we kept things as they are now, all we would do is maintain the gap,” he told ABC.

“It takes time. We think we’ll start seeing big changes by about 2018. Now I know that’s another couple of years off, but that’s the reality of dealing with people’s health. It just doesn’t improve overnight,“ he said.

The report recommends that each political party make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health a key priority for election party platforms at the 2016 Federal Election.

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