Thursday marked the release of a new strategy prioritising cultural safety in the health system brought forward by First Nations health experts, regulators and health organisations.

The National Scheme’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Cultural Safety Strategy 2020-2025 focuses on Indigenous patient clinical and cultural safety.

Presented by Ahpra (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) and National Boards, the strategy was endorsed by 43 organisations, academics and individuals.

With the four objectives of cultural safety, increased participation, greater access and influence, the strategy has already achieved some of its targets, including:

  • Partnering with the National Health Leadership Forum to develop a baseline definition of cultural safety
  • Commissioning a high-quality cultural safety training
  • Recommending and advocating for changes to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law.

Established by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Group, the strategy was led by First Nations organisations and individuals.

Inaugural Co-Chair of the Strategy Group, Professor Gregory Phillips, said the strategy has been a long time coming and marks a significant milestone for addressing health inequity.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Group has already instigated and progressed significant reform to help achieve health equity and address racism in the health system,” Professor Phillips said.

“We are proud of our achievements to date and the launch of the strategy. We have much work to do, but together we can have a broad-reaching effect that will help embed cultural safety into the health system across Australia.”

“This is a significant step in the right direction to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s health, and the national priority of a health system free of racism.”

Ahpra Chair, Gil Callister PSM, said self-determination underpins the work, as the Strategy Group was guided by Indigenous individuals and organisations.

“As we saw in the recent 10-year Closing the Gap report – our health system must embrace this strategy to fundamentally improve the health of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Callister said.

Strategy Group Co-Chair and Chair of the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia, Julie Brayshaw, said cultural safety needs to become the norm so there can be equality for First Nations patients.

“Without cultural safety, there is no patient safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients,” Brayshaw said.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association CEO, incoming Strategy Group Co-Chair Karl Briscoe agrees.

“When we talk about patient safety it’s important to understand that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this is inextricably linked with cultural safety,” Briscoe said.

“This means that cultural safety is not an ‘add on’ or ‘nice to’. It’s something all registered health practitioners and health regulators need to understand and apply.”

CEO of Dental Council of Australia, Narelle Mills, said the partnerships have enabled the strategy to demonstrate strength and commitment to change.

“With this strategy, 43 entities have a clear way forward to support cultural safety, work in a culturally safe way and deliver to clear strategic objectives that seek to embed cultural safety across the registered health workforce, education providers, students and the entities regulating health practitioners,” Mills said.

By Rachael Knowless