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Cooperation vital to close health gap

The AMA has urged the Federal, State and Territory government to put partisanship to one side and begin to work together on plans to boost Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton welcomed the long-awaited launch last week of the Commonwealth’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan as an important first step in developing a coordinated approach to dramatically improve Indigenous health in the next 10 years.

The Plan, developed in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, calls for a greater focus on child health and development and the social determinants of illness and disease as part of efforts to close the gap and establish health equality by 2031.

Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon said that the Government was determined, with the support of peak Indigenous groups including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, to take a broader approach to Indigenous health to encompass developmental and social issues including violence and alcohol abuse as well as stamping out racism and inequality in the health system.

“In this plan we signal the need to expand our focus on children’s health to broader issues in child development,” Mr Snowdon said. “We have much more work to do in developing robust research and data systems. I am also resolved that we will tackle the difficult and distressing issues of violence, abuse and self harm.”

Shadow Indigenous Health Minister Andrew Laming said the Plan was an essentially empty statement short on detail, and accused the Government of springing the announcement on Indigenous health groups.

“The plan…contains little detail,” Dr Laming told The Australian. “[It] appears to be yet another exercise in political spin, lacking any substance, and fails to say how we are going to get there.”

But Mr Snowdon said the plan, developed following a series of 17 consultations held with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the receipt of more than 140 written submissions, would provide guidance for State and Territory governments about what the Commonwealth saw as priorities, and make sure they were taken into account in future intergovernmental agreements to improve Indigenous health.

The Minister used the announcement to intensify the pressure on the states and territories yet to commit to a new five-year National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes after the first deal expired last month.

So far, only the Commonwealth and Victoria have committed to a new five-year agreement, while Western Australia has pledged funds for just one year.

Dr Hambleton said a renewed agreement was vital, not only to ensure recent improvements in Indigenous health were sustained and built upon, but also to shepherd through the changes outlined in the Federal Government’s Health Plan.

The AMA President said that, now the Plan had been released, there needed to be detailed and comprehensive commitments from all those involved  – governments and medical and community groups – to ensure it was implemented.

Dr Hambleton said clear and measurable targets should be developed, as well as plans for how they were to be met.

He said this needed to be underpinned by appropriate funding and strategies to ensure the necessary workforce was available.

Underlying it all, he said, there had to be a solid requirement that all governments work together in genuine partnership, and with the guidance of Indigenous health leaders and communities.

“A National Implementation Plan is not truly national unless it has all the states and territories on board in a spirit of cooperation with the Commonwealth,” the AMA President said.

Adrian Rollins

 

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