Palliative care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people needs to be delivered with cultural awareness and respect, says Palliative Care Australia (PCA) chief executive officer (CEO) Liz Callaghan.
Ms Callaghan says quality palliative care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people occurred in some parts of the country, where services have worked with the community’s organisations to develop appropriate models of care, but there are many parts of Australia where this is not the case.
“Palliative care, like the rest of the health system, is not one size fits all. It should recognise the individual and that includes acknowledging the needs of an Aboriginal person or a Torres Strait Islander person.
“For many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people returning to country to die is important, as is telling the story of their life.”
Ms Callaghan says the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023 was significant.
“This plan takes forward the vision for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023 but the focus for palliative care is limited to older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their families and carers. There are no key performance indicators for palliative care.
“While some aspects of palliative care are recognised in the Health Plan, but we would like to see measurable goals put in place to drive change where it is needed.”
According to Ms Callaghan the latest Close the Gap report shows improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but there is still some way to go.
“This is reflected in palliative care. While the report does not examine palliative care, we know anecdotally that culturally appropriate care is not done well everywhere in Australia. Some parts of the county offer exceptional levels of care, but we need to see that good work spread.
“Culturally inappropriate care at the end of life can cause unnecessary suffering and distress for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, their families and communities.”
She says it is important that non-indigenous health care workers develop culturally safe practices through education, ongoing training and appropriate engagement with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have one or multiple chronic illnesses, particularly as they age. These people should have access to culturally appropriate care at the end of life that will help them to manage the symptoms of their illness so they can continue to live their lives well,” Ms Callaghan says.
Do you belong to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community that could benefit from learning more about caring for people when they are getting ready to ‘finish up’?
PEPA offers a tailored workshop program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and healthcare providers predominantly caring for Indigenous people. This includes most staff from Aboriginal Health Services (Indigenous or non-Indigenous) and healthcare providers in Indigenous communities. A culturally safe program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, health practitioners, hospital liaison officers and community workers, in most cases, elders and other community members may be invited to attend events.
The workshop aims to increase community awareness in caring for people who are unwell and not going to get better. This program is flexible and customised to local needs within each state and territory.
The program is underpinned by the principle of Cultural Respect in that interventions and services should ‘not unwittingly compromise the cultural rights, practices, values and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’*. The program has been developed with steering from the PEPA for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers Reference Group, which includes representatives from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, policy and education sectors.
To find out more, please contact the PEPA Aboriginal Project Officer/ Consultant or PEPA Manager in your state or territory.
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