A new report has highlighted the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and health practitioners in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patient outcomes.

Released on Wednesday by the New South Wales Bureau of Health Information, the report is the culmination of 8,000 Aboriginal people’s experiences in NSW public hospitals and health services between 2014 and 2019.

It found that the support provided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers overwhelmingly contributed to higher levels of patient care and satisfaction.

Proud Kuku Yalanji man and CEO of the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners (NAATSIHWP) Karl Briscoe said the “report reinforces what we have always known”.

The report found that 64 per cent of patients supported by an Indigenous healthcare worker said they ‘always’ had the opportunity to talk to a doctor compared to 47 per cent who were not supported by an Indigenous health worker.

And 79 per cent said that Indigenous health professionals ‘always’ explained things in a way they could understand compared to 68 per cent who were not supported by an Indigenous health worker.

The report also brought together data from Indigenous women who gave birth in hospitals in the care of Indigenous health care workers.

It found:

  • Sixty-two per cent of Aboriginal women who had the support of an Indigenous healthcare worker said they were ‘always’ able to get assistance and advice from health professionals after birth, compared to 42 per cent who were not supported by an Indigenous healthcare worker
  • Seventy-one per cent of Aboriginal women who had the support of an Indigenous healthcare worker said they were ‘completely’ given enough information to care for both themselves and their baby at home, compared to 40 per cent who were not supported by an Indigenous healthcare worker
  • Eighty-nine per cent of Aboriginal women who had the support of an Indigenous healthcare worker said they were ‘always’ treated with respect and dignity during labour and birth, compared to 72 per cent who were not supported by an Indigenous healthcare worker.

“There were almost 300 Aboriginal women who shared their stories … we know with traditional birthing on Country there are women who had roles within the community to assist and support pregnant mothers,” said Briscoe.

“When we look at the mainstream health service, having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers supporting our expectant mothers through their birth, the satisfaction from that was no surprise.”

During the study, an improvement was seen in admitted Aboriginal patients’ overall ratings of nurses, improvements for rural hospitals were seen in the ranking of healthcare staff, and it was found that Aboriginal patients who had the support of an Indigenous healthcare worker were more likely to give a ‘very good’ overall rating of care.

However, it was also noted that, Aboriginal patients in urban hospitals gave fewer positive ratings to the care compared to rural hospitals and across the State, Aboriginal women who received maternity care gave lower ratings of care during labour and birth than non-Aboriginal women.

“In terms of cultural safety and being responsive to our mob’s healthcare, when we look at a lot of remote communities where they do have to go into urban areas to give birth, having that support of an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander health worker is vital for their cultural safety,” said Briscoe.

“It ensures that the service they are receiving is also culturally responsive to their needs.”

Briscoe hopes the report will push the crucial importance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce.

“What [the report] does do is really talks to the Australian healthcare administrators and practitioners and asks them to invest in our particular workforce,” he said.

By Rachael Knowles