President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Steve Hambleton says the federal government has to do much more for Indigenous health - "There is a long way to go."
On Saturday May 26 at the AMA National Conference the AMA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Report: Progress to Date and Challenges that Remain was released.
The report summarises the recommendation of the AMA Indigenous Health Report Cards over the past ten years and analyses the major government measures related to the recommendations that have been implemented.
Dr Hambleton said that the audit report demonstrates evidence of a greater government commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in recent years with new programs and increased funding however "that there is still much more to do to close the gap in health inequalities."
"“The track record has been varied over the decade, but there has been building momentum in recent years,” Dr Hambleton said.
“In 2008, COAG made a commitment to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians."
“Broad goals to close the gap were set out, mainly in primary health care, along with general program objectives. To support these commitments, Australian governments undertook to provide $1.6 billion over four years."
“This funding better reflects the genuine needs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and must continue beyond 2013, when the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Health Outcomes expires."
“There is recognition of the important role of the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector and a modest boost to the workforce for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. This will improve with the implementation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategic Framework 2011-2015."
“We also welcome the formation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Equality Council and the current process for drafting the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Equality Plan."
“Overall, there has been significant recent progress, but many challenges remain,” Dr Hambleton said.
Key findings of the audit report included the injection of funding into primary care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health through the COAG National Partnership Agreements is welcome and significant. However Dr Hambleton said this level of funding must be sustained after the expiry of these agreements in 2013 if the gap is to be properly closed.
Dr Hambleton said there must be a significant primary care services workforce and the development of a high quality workforce of and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. He said greater emphasis must be given to building the capacity of Aboriginal community-controlled health services.
Similarly to others past and present he said a great deal more needs to be done to reduce Aboriginal peoples' incarceration rates and to stop the cycle of offending and particularly to young people.
He slammed punitive measures to health improvement and measures that demean and stigmatising Aboriginal peoples such as the signs proscribing alcohol and pornography and that these punitive measures fail to contribute to healing. He has called on the government to "abandon these approaches."
He slammed the poor track record of engagement and consultation by the government with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the planning and implementation of national solutions to their health problems. However, he said this may be beginning to change "particularly through the formation of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples and the advisory roles given to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Equality Council."
The AMA Audit Report can be found at http://ama.com.au/aboriginal-reportcards/auditreport-2012
The AMA Report Cards on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health can be viewed at http://ama.com.au/aboriginal-reportcards