The Government announces free health check-ups for Indigenous children

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Published in the HealthBulletin Journal
Posted on:
19 July, 2005
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The following summary has been adapted from media releases provided by the Minister for Health and Ageing, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the ABC

The Commonwealth Government has announced a new Medicare-funded annual health check for all Indigenous children from birth to 14 years of age. The new health check will be introduced within the next 12 months. This additional Medicare item will encourage doctors to carry out regular and comprehensive health checks on Indigenous children to enable early detection of disease and reduce the high rates of illness. In particular, the new health assessments will allow doctors to target risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, substance use and other health problems that can commence in childhood or early adolescence.

Details of the child health check will be developed in consultation with child health experts, GP organisations and other groups involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. With the development of the child health check, a framework will be in place for health assessment and health promotion interventions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at all stages of life. The initiative complements the $102.4 million Healthy for Life package announced in the 2005-06 Budget, which will improve the health of Indigenous mothers and babies through targeted activities at various places across the country.

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia, while acknowledging the child health check as a welcome move, has cautioned that the health initiative will be of greatest benefit to those near a bulk-billing GP. Association vice-president Doctor Ross Maxwell commented that ‘As this is a Medicare funded system, a little bit depends on whether they have access to Medicare funded services as to whether or not this announcement will make a difference’. Dr Maxwell emphasised that efforts to improve Indigenous health cannot stop with the new initiative ‘Indigenous health standards are still absolutely inadequate on international benchmarks so it is important that we take every opportunity to improve Indigenous health.’

Three leading primary health care organisations – the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Australian Divisions of General Practice (ADGP) and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), have all welcomed the annual health checks.

Dr Naomi Mayers, Acting NACCHO Chair, explained that adult health can be improved if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have access to primary health care. She said ‘There is good evidence that Aboriginal children are less likely to be vaccinated than other children, have more anaemia, have poorer access to hearing services even though deafness is more common from ear infections, and they are at higher risk of developing poor health as adults.’

Professor Kidd, President of the RACGP, added ‘By acting to meet these challenges early in life, better health can provide a greater chance for positive education, social and employment outcomes. This additional funding recognises the valuable role played by general practice in delivering enhanced health care for some of our most disadvantaged Australians.’

According to ADGP Chair, Dr Rob Walters, the new items ‘closed a gap’ that had existed in the current stock of health prevention measures accessible to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. ‘This initiative will provide a mechanism for Aboriginal  peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples of all ages to access preventive health care, something that is critically important given the well-documented, tragically poor health levels of Australia’s Indigenous population.’ Dr Walters said the new health check item demonstrated that preventative health initiatives – aimed at promoting good health rather than simply treating disease down the track – were a major priority for the Government. ‘It is encouraging that the Government appears to recognise that investing in primary care strategies not only saves health dollars but promotes good health outcomes. The pay off comes in the form of healthier communities overall and hospitals less burdened by patients needing treatment for preventable diseases.’

On behalf of the RACGP, Professor Michael Kidd congratulated both NACCHO and the Australian Government for improving access to vital primary health care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

For further information:

Minister for Health and Ageing
New health check for Indigenous children – 2005
View media release (HTML) (released 28 June 2005)

Doctors criticise access to Indigenous health initiative
View media release (HTML) (released 4 July 2005)

Medicare initiative
View media release
(HTML) (released 5 July 2005)