The Lighthouse Project
BY AMA PRESIDENT DR MICHAEL GANNON
Last year, when the AMA released its 2016 Report Card on Indigenous Health, it set out a plan for governments to eradicate Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) from Australia by 2031. Since the release of this Report Card, the AMA has been a part of growing efforts to reinforce to our political leaders that RHD must be stamped out, and that other cardiovascular health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be improved.
As part of our efforts to improve the cardiovascular health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the AMA has become a founding member of an END RHD Coalition – an alliance of six organisations with a vision to see the end of RHD in Australia, we participated in the inaugural Close the Gap Parliamentary Friendship Group which focussed on the enormous impact of RHD, and we recently met with the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) to discuss the Lighthouse Project – a joint initiative of the AHHA and the Heart Foundation to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experiencing coronary heart disease.
The aim of the Lighthouse Project is to help close the gap in cardiovascular disease between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through the provision of evidence-based, culturally safe care for acute coronary syndrome. With cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a major contributor to the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and other Australians, it is imperative that the AMA and other health and medical organisations are actively engaged in this area.
It is unacceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who represent three per cent of the entire Australian population, are 1.6 times more likely to die from coronary heart disease than their non-Indigenous peers. It is also unacceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely to undergo vital coronary tests and procedures once admitted to hospital.
It is clear that the hospital system must better respond to the unique health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. Hospitals have an important role to play in improving access to care and addressing disparities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is where initiatives such as the Lighthouse Project are extremely valuable.
During Phase 1 of the Lighthouse Project, cultural competence, having a skilled workforce, appropriate governance and the use of clinical care pathways were identified as four key areas of best practice for improving care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with Acute Coronary Syndrome. In Phase 2, a quality improvement toolkit was developed and implemented in eight public hospitals across Australia.
Through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Lighthouse Project, these public hospitals have achieved culturally safe environments and enhanced staff capacity to respond to the unique needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, and have reported improved relationships with Indigenous patients and communities.
The Lighthouse Project must be seen as a positive example of how gains in health outcomes can be achieved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I am pleased that the work of the Lighthouse Project will continue, with the Commonwealth Government recently announcing that $8 million has been provided to support Phase 3 of the Lighthouse Project, which aims to extend the project to 18 hospitals across the country and allowing it to reach nearly one in every two Indigenous patients admitted to hospital for a cardiac condition.
Eliminating inequities in health service provision to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is vital, and it is encouraging to see that the great work of the Lighthouse Project is being recognised. By increasing cardiovascular health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we can reduce mortality rates, increase life expectancy, and help close the unacceptable health gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians today.