More Indigenous children are going to New South Wales hospitals with serious burns than other children, a study has found.
The research by the University of NSW found that Indigenous children were also less likely to be treated in a hospital with a paediatric burns unit, despite needing more intensive treatment and a longer stay.
The study was led by the UNSW Centre for Big Data Research in Health and supported by researchers at The George Institute for Global Health.
It investigated the differences in burn injuries in children, examining causes, locations on the body, burn size and length of stay in hospital.
The study found the proportion of Indigenous children with burns who presented with injuries affecting more than 10 percent of their bodies was greater and the hospital stay was usually almost three days longer than for non-Indigenous children.
A smaller proportion of Indigenous children with burns were treated in a hospital with a paediatric tertiary burns unit, fitting with previous studies that show Indigenous Australians experience inequities in the delivery of medical services.
One of the authors, Holger Möller, said the higher proportion of Indigenous children presenting with burns affecting more than 10 percent of their bodies was of particular concern.
“Burns can be among the most devastating of child injuries and can result in long-term physical and psychological impairment affecting the child’s development and future life,” he said.
“We could not assess the longer term outcomes of burn injury in this study and to date little is known about the long-term outcomes, the post-discharge care, and the impact of care on functional outcomes in Aboriginal children.”
Scalds were the leading cause of burn injury to both Indigenous (47 percent) and non-Indigenous children (62 percent).
There was a higher proportion of flame burns in Indigenous children, which may be partially explained by the higher number of Indigenous children living in rural and remote areas where there are more outdoor fires.
Study author and director of the Injury Division at The George Institute Professor Rebecca Ivers is currently exploring the care of Aboriginal children with burns through another study covering Queensland, NSW, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
It follows children for at least two years post-burn in order to understand the impact and cost of burns. A roundtable is being planned for 2018 to develop a new model of care.
The study uses Indigenous research methodologies and three Aboriginal PhD students are involved in the project.
“The study builds on previous understanding about burns in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children but rather than just measuring inequality, will result in a new transformative model of care that meets the needs of patients and caregivers,” Professor Ivers said.
The study is governed by an Aboriginal advisory committee. It was published on Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia.
By Wendy Caccetta