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Closing the Gap on Healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Patients

Heart Foundation - Closing the gap on healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients

The release of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s ‘Admitted patient care 2013–14: Australian hospital statistics’ on Close the Gap day is a timely reminder of the disparities in health between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous people.

According to the report there were about 408,000 separations for Indigenous Australians, who were hospitalised at more than twice the rate for other Australians (896 and 384 per 1,000 population, respectively).

Addressing the cardiovascular inequities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is an explicit commitment in the Heart Foundation’s For all Hearts Strategy 2013-2017.  The organisation is also a co-signatory on the Close the Gap campaign and is committed to ‘closing the gap’ on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage.

Vicki Wade, the Heart Foundation’s spokesperson on Aboriginal health said the organisation is committed to addressing health equity by working to reduce and eliminate systematic inequities in both health status and access to quality healthcare.

“Whilst modest gains have been made in life expectancy (1.6 years for males, 0.6 years for females), there is a real concern that if we do not continue with a sustained national and state approach that is well resourced and in collaboration with Aboriginal Health Leaders, and Community, then we in fact, may not reach the target of closing the gap of life expectancy by 2020,” Ms Wade said.

Cardiovascular disease, particularly coronary heart disease, is the major cause of premature death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, accounting for 26% of all deaths.[i]

Cardiovascular disease is a major contributor to the gaps in life expectancy with recent statistics suggesting that Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women can expect to live 10.6 and 9.5 fewer years, respectively, than other Australians.[ii]

In 2012-13, compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were 20 per cent more likely to have cardiovascular disease, three times more likely to have a heart attack, and nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease.[iii]

In 2004-05, the pattern of cardiovascular disease prevalence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was equivalent to that of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who are 10 years older.[iv]

“While the investment in the Close the Gap initiative has seen some improvement in the cardiovascular health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, greater gains need to be made.

“When presenting to hospitals Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not receive the same level of care as other Australians.

“The AIHW’s report highlights the in-hospital treatment disparities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and shows that in health terms, Indigenous Australians are continuing to fall through the gap at every stage of their journey through the health care system,” Ms Wade said.

The Heart Foundation believes closing of the gap in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in rural and remote areas can be achieved by expanding access to a broader range of specialist outreach services available in those areas and supporting cardiovascular outreach programs, which enable cardiologists to travel to remote areas to collaborate with community doctors to provide complex cardiovascular diagnostic services and treatments.

References
[i] ABS Life table for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2010-2012, ABS.@3320.0.55.003
[ii] Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2014, Productivity Commission, 19 November 2014
[iii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Contribution of chronic disease to the gap in adult mortality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other Australians. Canberra: AIHW, 2011. (AIHW Cat. No. IHW 48.)
[iv] Australian Bureau of Statistics. Life tables for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2010-2012. Canberra: ABS, 2013. (ABS Cat. No. 3302.0.55.003)

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