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Every day should be Close the Gap Day: AMA

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The nation’s governments must immediately begin to act on measures to boost Indigenous health to ensure the momentum built around recent gains is not lost, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has said.

In comments to mark Close the Gap Day, Dr Hambleton said the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments should renew their COAG Closing the Gap partnership agreement for a further five years, backed by same level of funding, as well as develop a clear strategy to implement the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan.

“Our governments must make every day a Close the Gap Day,” Dr Hambleton said. “Consistent and coordinated action is needed to increase the momentum and build on the early successes of strategies to close the gap across the health spectrum.”

In a report to Parliament in February, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the nation was on target to halve the gap in child mortality within a decade, to have 95 per cent of children in remote areas enrolled in pre-school and to halve the gap in year 12 attainment by 2020.

But Mr Abbott said almost no progress had been made in narrowing the 10-year gap in life expectancy.

Dr Hambleton said the existing COAG partnership agreement, which is due to expire in June, had already achieved significant success in reducing smoking rates and improving maternal and child health, and it was important not to let the momentum gained drop away.

He said a renewed partnership agreement needed to be backed by a strategy to implement the Health Plan, including:

·        a comprehensive set of measurable targets to be achieved within a decade;

·        the development of a service model to achieve those targets;

·        the development of a national workforce strategy;

·        funding and resources commensurate with the task; and

·        clear requirements for governments to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leaders and Indigenous communities.

In an encouraging advance in Indigenous-led health, four Aboriginal GPs have established a joint child and family-focused medical centre on Palm Island.

The Palm Island Children and Family Centre, founded by Dr Raymond Blackman and Dr Vicki Stonehouse in November last year, was set up to fill a glaring gap in medical services on the island.

Dr Blackman said that before the Centre was set up, the only option for islanders in need of care was the local hospital.

He said primary health care, underpinned by an on-going relationship between GPs and their patients, was proven to provide better health outcomes over time.

“We have GP skills, an interest and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, and in our clinic we have the necessary support structures to enable better outcomes on Palm Island,” Dr Blackman said. “This needs to be replicated throughout the country.”

Dr Blackman received the 2014 Wakapi Anyiku Doctor Oomparani Award in recognition of his leadership and commitment.

Adrian Rollins