A call for action on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander health & climate change

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When 1,100 people who are immersed in delivering health care into rural, regional and remote areas across Australia get together, their collective voice packs power.

This was the case at the 15th National Rural Health Conference in Hobart in March (hosted by the National Rural Health Alliance) which produced six key recommendations, plus detailed underpinning actions for each.

Their tenor suggests urgency.

The recommendations called on all governments – state, Territory and Federal to:

  •  take urgent and comprehensive action to Close the Gap in health care outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people;
  • address the ecological, social, economic and cultural determinants of health (education, housing, employment) as a matter of urgency;
  • take immediate action to develop an integrated primary health care system to improve access to primary health services in rural and remote communities;
  • take urgent action to redress the health workforce maldistribution;
  • provide ongoing and increased support to our rural and remote workforce to improve recruitment, retention and community care; and
  • require that research funded through the Medical Research Future Fund Missions (which already covers areas such as cancer and genomics) includes research in and upon rural and remote health commensurate with the burden of rural and remote disease and disability.

The recommendations were shaped by delegates in an online portal called The Sharing Shed over the four days of the conference. Delegates could log in on their phones, tablets or laptops and suggest recommendations and vote for those they supported most. With 224 submitted, the Recommendations Committee led by Tamworth GP and Alliance Council representative Jenny May, then conducted a plenary session to whittle them down to the final six. The actions recommended under each of them are detailed.

The process was a tribute to Jenny and delegates who volunteered to shape them.

 “We used a willing army”, Jenny said.

“A number of us read through the initial 100 recommendations and identified the key themes which were then noted on the conference website. Delegates adding recommendations could add these under existing themes or create new ones. Then we grouped and reviewed the recommendations and one person worked on each theme. The whole process took six people four to 12 hours each.”

Forty delegates volunteered to refine the recommendations at a workshop which were then put to the floor of the conference on the final day before being presented at closing to the then Federal minister responsible for rural health Bridget McKenzie.

Jenny said the recommendations will now be road tested on Alliance member bodies and other stakeholders and could eventually become future National Rural Health Alliance policy.

“Some are already consistent with Alliance positions or extend them. And some will be reviewed to see if they should be adopted. The Alliance will match them with other evidence. Some are suitable to be taken up by the Alliance and some are for other groups. Many require work and a focusing process to be considered as key principles.”

Jenny said planet health and the impacts of climate change which came under the second recommendation, to address the ecological, social, economic and cultural determinants of health (education, housing, employment) as a matter of urgency, exemplified how the conference recommendations could shape future Alliance policy.

“Work in this area is imperative for rural and metropolitan health outcomes but the health impacts will have a disproportionate effect on those living rurally. We need mechanisms to manage the likely health outcomes for rural Australians. While most action on this front will need to be taken outside the health space, the Alliance will need to be a key advocate for it.”

The full recommendations can be viewed here.


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