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Landmark strategy signals step towards Closing the Gap

Published:  20 October 2022

Townsville Hospital and Health Service has launched its landmark First Nations Health Equity Strategy in a significant step towards improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in North Queensland.

The document provides a blueprint for achieving health equity for First Nations people, eliminating institutional racism, and strengthening decision-making and power-sharing arrangements with Indigenous communities.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service board chair Tony Mooney said the strategy showed the health service was committed to partnering with First Nations people to deliver health services.

“It is clear that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to be empowered and involved in their care and want to work with health providers to ensure appropriate care helps community members live long and healthy lives,” Mr Mooney said.

“Nobody is better placed to lead this than the community themselves and working together we can re-design and re-shape our health systems to ensure we can provide the best care possible. 

“This project needs the voices, leadership and lived experiences of First Nations people to guide our steps towards reform. 

“It is not right that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a lower life expectancy than non-First Nations people and we must work to address these inequalities.”

Mr Mooney said the strategy was unique to the region, with the design and implementation built around local solutions to local challenges.

“We have been bold and ambitious in the design of the strategy as we aim to Close the Gap by 2031, but as the focus now shifts to implementation, our work is only just beginning," he said. 

Executive director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health Wendy Ah Chin said the strategy was predicated on self-determination, empowerment and locally led decision-making.

“The voices, insights and expertise of First Nations people have historically been left out of health service planning, but this strategy allows us to place our people and voices at the centre of health care service and delivery,” Ms Ah Chin said.

“As well as addressing the disproportionately high rates of hospitalisations and chronic diseases among First Nations people, this strategy aims to develop links with other sectors to improve outcomes in education, housing, employment and child safety.

‘‘The strategy will complement, build on and strengthen existing health service initiatives such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Advisory Council. The group of community representatives engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers and communities on the provision of quality healthcare to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.’’

The Cathedral School student and Townsville Hospital and Health Service paediatric cariology patient Carcia Nallajar is a living proponent of health equity in action.

The 17-year-old from Palm Island has been living with rheumatic heart disease (RHD) for 10 years, during which time she’s become an advocate for young people with RHD.

“I view having this disease as a blessing in disguise as it’s allowed me to visit many different and exciting places as I share my story and educate my people about disease prevention and treatment,” Carcia said.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service’s First Nations Health Equity Strategy can be accessed online as a living document, where it will be updated as the strategy is implemented.

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