Indigenous healthcare service 'a model'

A new model of Indigenous health care is being presented to Australia's health ministers in Cairns.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

A new model of Indigenous health care is being presented to Australia's health ministers in Cairns.

The Queensland government has just handed control of primary health in the state's largest Indigenous town to a community-based group.

It's a first - and there are hopes it will help close the Indigenous health gap.

Stefan Armbruster reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

It's been a long and, at times, sorrowful journey over thirty years, fighting for community control of Yarrabah's health services.

Elders in the far north Queensland Aboriginal community started the push in the 1980s, frustrated by poor health care and shocking youth suicide rates.

It's an emotion moment for Sue Andrews, chief executive of the Gurriny Yealamucka primary health care service.

"The elders who were first, sitting under the tree, talking about community control - they're the people who aren't here today that would have seen their vision come to fruition."

After limited success in closing the Indigenous health gap, the Queensland government's Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg, is handing over control.

"Well this will be the first time in Queensland, indeed in Australia, where there's been a significant transition of state-controlled primary healthcare services to an Indigenous-controlled community health organisation and there's a lot of research around that says, particularly with Indigenous communities, if you can empower them, if you can give them the control, you get far better outcomes with the health services that are provided."

Yarrabah mayor Errol Neal says the council has backed demands for the community control since the 1980s.

"Ah mate, it's a milestone, a big step for our community. It brings a lot of pride to our community that Yarrabah is leading the way in health."

Queensland's biggest Aboriginal community, like many others, suffers from high rates of chronic disease, social disadvantage and the legacy of the Stolen Generation.

Gurriny Yealamucka has been given 12 months to prove it can provide primary health care to the almost 3,000 residents of Yarrabah.

In another first, Yarrabah now also has local dialysis, meaning patients no longer need to travel to the regional hospital in Cairns for treatment.

Sue Andrews says the Gurriny Yealamucka will provide a holistic service.

"It's not just about health, it's also about social health. So when you look at community control, it encompasses clinical health as well as social health, meaning we don't just fix the individual, but the family and the whole community."

State health minister Lawrence Springborg promises the handover will cut service duplication, but not Yarrabah's health budget.

The Queensland government already has plans to transfer control of primary health in more than a dozen Indigenous communities across the state.

"There's plenty of money in health care, no one should think otherwise. What we've had is a lot of waste in health care in the past few years. There's been a lot of waste when it comes to the delivery of Indigenous health care, lots of duplication and triplication of with regards to the delivery of services. There's a lack of co ordination, disjointed systems, and the real losers have been Indigenous patients."





3 min read
Published 29 July 2014 at 6:56pm
By Stefan Armbruster