Current topics

Minister for Health and Ageing outlines the Rudd Government’s plans to ‘Close the gap’

Posted on: 1 October, 2008
Issue: Vol 8 No 4, October 2008 - December 2008
Related to Policies Workforce

The Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, outlined the Rudd Government’s plans to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians at the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses Annual Conference, ‘CATSIN Dreaming’, held on 10 September 2008 in Adelaide.

The Minister noted the role of CATSIN as representatives of, and mentors to, Indigenous nurses, and highlighted the important voice CATSIN provides on matters relating to Indigenous health; illustrating the importance of CATSIN as a partner with the Rudd Government in closing the gap in life expectancy.

The commitment to closing the gap, formally agreed by Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in December 2007, included halving the mortality rate of Indigenous children within ten years through partnership between all levels of government, working with Indigenous communities. In July 2008 COAG agreed to a national partnership between States and Territories, providing half a billion dollars to improve health and education outcomes for Indigenous children. This funding will provide for the establishment of integrated Indigenous early childhood centres, and an increase in maternal, child and reproductive health services.

Specific spending includes:

  • $107 million to improve antenatal care for pregnant Indigenous women and greater access to sexual and reproductive health services for Indigenous teenagers.
  • $90 million over five years for additional child and maternal health services for Indigenous people. This includes support for the Australian roll-out of the Nurse Family Partnership (a nurse-led home visiting program which has delivered dramatic results in improving health outcomes for children in disadvantaged communities in the US through an intensive program of home visits from specially trained nurses).
  • Extra resources for maternal and child health services in Wyong and Mt Druitt (NSW), Toowoomba (QLD), Roebourne (WA), Darwin (NT), and most recently Apunipima Health Council in Cape York (QLD). Up to 15 more sites are to receive additional funding under this initiative.

More generally, the Minister noted the discussion paper on maternity services (as part of the Government’s review of maternity services arrangements) with particular mention of its importance in relation to access to midwifery services for those pregnant women in rural and remote areas.

Commitments in other areas of Indigenous health were also noted:

  • 11.2 million to tackle acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease among Indigenous children (rates of rheumatic fever in some Indigenous communities are among the highest in the world).
  • Just under $100 million for substance and alcohol rehabilitation and treatment services, particularly in remote areas.
  • $14.5 million over four years to help tackle high rates of smoking in Indigenous communities.
  • An additional $99.7 million over the next two years to expand primary health care in the Northern Territory and establish a remote area health corps agency.
  • An additional $13.6 million to follow up dental, hearing and ear, nose and throat problems identified in Aboriginal children during health checks conducted as part of the NT intervention.
  • $21.5 million over five years to upgrade vital remote health clinics, improve access to renal dialysis services, and expand sexual assault counselling services in the NT.

The Minister noted the necessity for an adequate workforce in order to meet targets and outlined the National Indigenous Health Workforce Training Plan, with funding of $19 million over three years. This training package will:

  • Support CATSIN as well as the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association.
  • Support the Indigenous health sector to encourage Indigenous students to study in the health sciences and join the health workforce.
  • Provide additional training opportunities for Aboriginal Health Workers, and support the establishment of a National Aboriginal Health Worker Association.
  • Expand Indigenous health into the curriculum in medical, allied health and nursing schools.

An additional 30 Puggy Hunter Scholarships for Indigenous health professionals studying child and maternal health will be provided as well as 50,000 vocational education training places for additional Aboriginal Health Workers. The Minister also mentioned findings from the ‘Pathways Paper’ which highlighted the need to promote and improve pathways between school, vocational education and training and higher education in order to increase the number of Indigenous people working in health.

Importantly, the government is determined to ensure that the skills of different health professionals are used efficiently, for example, a greater use of nurse practitioners will ensure that the skills of nurses are used to their full potential and help address the increasing demand for health services.

The Minister pointed out that the government views Indigenous health as part of the broader health strategy rather than separate from it, but needing particular focus and resources. For example, the Commonwealth Dental Health Program (if passed) provides for an additional 60,000 dental services for Indigenous people. A hallmark of the reforms is improved accountability and transparency with a greater onus on governments to demonstrate better outcomes for Indigenous people; benchmark performance indicators will be broken down into Indigenous and non-Indigenous results enabling successes and shortcomings to be pinpointed and responses, where necessary, to be targeted.

scroll to the top