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RAP review makes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health a priority for HHS

Published:  10 November 2020

With almost eight per cent of the Townsville Hospital and Health Service (HHS) community identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, a strong plan to Close the Gap has been called out as a major priority for the HHS.

Twelve months ago, the HHS launched its inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) 2019-2021 with clear objectives and targets to help improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Indigenous health coordinator Salli-Ann Buttigieg said one year in, the RAP objectives were progressing well.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put a bit of a spanner in the works for some of our initiatives; however, we are still making great inroads with 68 per cent of actions having commenced or having been completed,” Salli-Ann said.

Salli-Ann said some of the big wins so far were new career pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“One of our most ambitious targets was to increase our Indigenous workforce to eight per cent which is in line with the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our community,” Salli-Ann said.

“Part of that was simply capturing the number of Indigenous staff who were already employed by the HHS but who haven’t identified it in our workforce systems.

“And, more excitingly, we have implemented a number of incentives and pathways for Indigenous people to join the health service including administration and dental assistant trainees, pathways for Indigenous doctors, the Nurse Academic Award and the introduction of Indigenous health workers in our renal unit.”

Salli-Ann said having more Indigenous faces in the organisation meant the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community would feel more comfortable accessing health care.

“One of the big challenges we face as a health provider is that there is a fear in the Indigenous community about having to come to hospital,” she said.

“One of the best ways to combat this is to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff who understand the culture, the community’s fears and can connect with them in a way that sometimes is difficult for non-Indigenous staff.

“In addition to our Indigenous health workers in our renal unit, where around 90 per cent of our patients are Indigenous, we’ve also introduced a Midwifery Community Access Program.

“This program is about ensuring that pregnant women in our community get antenatal care early, and regularly, rather than just when they give birth.

“By implementing good health early in the pregnancy, we can combat common issues for Indigenous babies such as premature birth and low birth weight. We can also put plans in place to help smoking cessation.”

Salli-Ann said while the team was proud of its achievements, there was still a long way to go.

“Closing the Gap isn’t an overnight solution and it will take a sustained effort to ensure we are able to reach our people and improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Salli-Ann said.

“I’m proud of how far we’ve come, and excited to continue to work towards a better future.”

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