NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Referendum an overwhelming time for mob

feature tile image of Aboriginal flag flying with Australian Parliament House in background; text 'Voice commentary leading to rise in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychological distress'

The image in the feature tile is from an article Voice to parliament won’t give ‘special rights’ to Indigenous Australians, legal experts say published in The Guardian on 13 December 2022.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Referendum an overwhelming time for mob

In an opinion piece about the Voice referendum proud Bundjalung woman and journalist Bronte Charles said “I get asked which way I’ll be voting. I’ve watched others speak over my people.  I’ve seen the racist tweets and posts, and held my breath as discussions get more toxic. I hear the nasty conversations and go to bed feeling anxious. The referendum on the Voice to Parliament has brought with it a lot of emotions – some good, some bad, some eh. To put it mildly, it’s been an overwhelming time for mob. In a time full of uncertainty – one thing is for sure: whether the outcome of the referendum is a yes or a no, we need to be there for one another and, most importantly, be there for ourselves.”

Ms Charles spoke to three First Nations people working in the mental health space:

  • Tanja Hirvonen is a Jaru Bunuba clinical psychologist and Board Director of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association
  • Dr Clinton Schultz, a Gamilaroi psychologist and director at the Black Dog Institute
  • Maddison O’Gradey-Lee is a provisional psychologist and is currently completing a PhD that explores young mob’s mental health

who all agreed the Voice has fuelled bigoted attitudes and behaviours, with “a lot of mob are reporting that they’re finding that constant attention, as well as the criticism and debate, becoming quite toxic and impacting heavily on their social and emotional well-being. The psychological distress that we’re seeing amongst mob at the moment is definitely raised.”

Tanja Hirvonen said mob can look after themselves during the referendum by doing what mob do best: “check in on each other as well as your Elders. Draw on the strength of your ancestors and draw on the strength of your mob and make sure to look after yourself. Touch base with your family and have those conversations with your trusted peers or family members. Make sure that you’re connecting with people that are like-minded, who are going to give you that care and compassion and that warm hug that you might need.” Whether you’re voting yes, no or you still haven’t decided, Tanja says that mental health should be a priority.

To view the SBS NITV article OPINION: The referendum campaign already has me overwhelmed. Here’s how you can look after yourself in full click here.

image of back of heads of protesters & Aboriginal flags flying

Photo: AAP. Image source: SBS NITV article ‘The Voice will spark an improvement in Indigenous mental health, say peak bodies.

Maningrida named NDIS market gap trail site

The NT Labor Government has welcomed the announcement of Maningrida as the first of two trial sites in a $7.6m investment into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Minister for the NDIS, the Hon Bill Shorten MP revealed that Maningrida would be a beneficiary of the pilot program for alternative commissioning approaches in thin markets where there are not enough services available to meet participants’ needs.

This is to ensure that participants can better access supports in remote and First Nations communities and will build on the work the NT Government is undertaking in partnership with the community, NDIA and sector as part of the deep dive into how the NDIS is working in Maningrida. Alternative commissioning will be undertaken in partnership with First Nations and remote communities to ensure the pilot is both culturally appropriate and underpinned by an understanding of community strengths and preferences.

Minister Shorten announced Maningrida’s inclusion as a trial site following a gathering with all State and Territory Ministers for Disabilities for a meeting of the Disability Reform Ministerial Council (DRMC) in Darwin, saying “This pilot will allow us to gain invaluable information on how we can ensure Australians with disability living in remote and First Nation communities can access supports and provide lessons on how to build the capability of communities and governments, and the types of alternative commissioning that work best.”

You can view The National Tribune article Maningrida announced as first trial site in $7.6 million NDIS market gap investment in full here and a transcript of the doorstop interview where Minister Shorten refers to the Maningrida trial here.

Manuel Brown Member for Arafura, Luke Gosling MP, Manuel Brown MP, Member for Arafura; Luke Gosling OAM, MP, Member for Solomon; Minister Bill Shorten; Member for Karama and NT Minister for Disabilities Ngaree Ah Kit

L-R: Manuel Brown MP, Member for Arafura; Luke Gosling OAM, MP, Member for Solomon; Minister Bill Shorten; Member for Karama and NT Minister for Disabilities Ngaree Ah Kit. Image: Manuel Brown’s Facebook page.

NT CTG should start with kids

Human-rights activist Timmy Duggan OAM said the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and Bringing Them Home reports highlighted the ‘urgent national crisis’ of the Gap more than 25 years ago. But as a history of generational trauma continues to weigh on the NT’s Aboriginal kids, he said it was clear more needed to be done to give today’s young people “doses of resilience”. “We can have an impact on them while their brain is still developing and provide good, positive experience[s], good, positive Aboriginal role models that they see day in and day out,” he said.

The NT’s first NBL player combined his sporting career and knowledge of Aboriginal health to launch Hoops 4 Health in 2002, with hopes to drive better outcomes for the NT’s kids. The organisation’s first base is set to open in about six weeks in one of Palmerston’s northern suburbs. Palmerston is home to 7.9% of the NT’s Indigenous population, according to 2021 census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Mr Duggan said the organisation started as a way to give back to the NT community and engage with kids in the Palmerston and Darwin areas.

Following a royal commission into the protection and detention of children in the NT, he said he was spurred into action and has not missed a weekend session with the kids in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre since 2016. The latest Productivity Commission data shows 96% of NT kids in detention are Indigenous, with First Nations children locked up at a rate 33 times higher than non-Indigenous children. Mr Duggan said Hoops 4 Health was not just about basketball – it was based on Bruce Perry’s neurosequential model for addressing trauma. “Using the trauma-informed model and culturally-informed coaching … can have a big impact in addressing trauma and chronic traumatic experiences,” he said.

The above has been taken from an article Palmerston, NT Closing the Gap efforts should start with kids published in the Gold Coast Bulletin earlier today, 30 August 2023.

founder of Hoops 4 Health, Timmy Duggan OAM with hands on shoulders of young ATSI boy holding basketball, background wall with basketball figures & basketball hoop

Hoops 4 Health founding director Timmy Duggan OAM said the Gap was reaching a ‘crisis’ point and more needed to be done to close it. Photo: Sierra Haigh. Image source: The Gold Coast Bulletin.

100% pass rate for GPs in training

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today labelled a recent 100% exam pass rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GPs in training as a phenomenal achievement. It comes following the recent results of the College’s Clinical Competency Exam (CCE), an exam designed to assess clinical competence and readiness for independent practice as a specialist GP.

RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Censor Dr Olivia O’Donoghue congratulated the GPs in training. “As Censor of the faculty this warms my heart and soul to see more of my peers achieving success in these high stakes assessment and moving onto RACGP Fellowship,” she said.  “The RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health faculty and assessment team have improved the Yagila Wadamba program – ‘Learn to heal’ in Wurundjeri – a culturally appropriate AKT and KFP intensive, and there are policies and procedures supported by the faculty Censor to provide additional advocacy and support through training and assessments. Moving towards training and workforce equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GPs is a priority for the RACGP and a key performance indicator for our training program.”

Dr O’Donoghue said that she was keenly focused on boosting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GP numbers. “We are making progress, but there is a lot more work to be done,” she said. “Numbers of self-identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander trainees have been steadily increasing. The RACGP currently has 60 GPs in training and 124 Fellows. The aim is for greater than 3% representation across training and for Fellows.

To view the RACGP media release RACGP welcomes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander exam success in full click here.

ATSI GP checking patient's heart with stethoscope

Photo: James Cook University General Practice Training. Image source: RACGP newsGP.

IWC tackles antenatal care gap for mums-to-be

The healthcare gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is well-known, but its extent concerning women’s antenatal and reproductive care remains relatively obscure. This is one of the reasons the Indigenous Wellbeing Centre Ltd (IWC) in Bundaberg, Qld, runs a midwifery program that offers monthly ante-natal check-ups, post-birth weigh-ins, and breastfeeding checks. Working alongside participants general practitioners or the hospital ante-natal clinic, this bulk-billed program provides expecting mothers of Bundaberg and North Burnett with vital continuity of care, which has been proven to improve a mum’s comfort level through her pregnancy and into early motherhood.

Through their dedicated work in this program, midwife Stephanie Rackemann and Indigenous health practitioner Lisa McGrady could not ignore the lack of engagement from Indigenous mums-to-be in mainstream healthcare services during their pregnancy in the Bundaberg and North Burnett region. “I’ve seen too many Indigenous mums late in their pregnancy who have not so much as had a GP appointment. It is sad to know that there is such a mistrust of the mainstream health care system that Indigenous mums would rather avoid care,“ Stephanie said.

“There are so many reasons these mums aren’t engaging in their healthcare, with barriers like lack of transport, a lack of understanding on the importance and not having the confidence to speak up and advocate for themselves in a clinical situation,“ Lisa explained. This is where the difference in the IWC Midwifery program comes in. Not only do these mums have access to a knowledgeable, experienced and approachable midwife, but they also have continued access to Lisa.

To view the Bundaberg Today article IWC tackles the gap in antenatal care for Indigenous mums-to-be in full click here.

Lisa McGrady, IWC Indigenous health practitioner with some of the valuable supplies provided by the community

Lisa McGrady, IWC Indigenous health practitioner with some of the valuable supplies provided by the community. Image source: Bundaberg Today.

Better access for people with diabetes and CVD

“Many Australians have diabetes and cardiovascular disease” (CVD), says Expert Advisory Panel member Professor John Prins. “These chronic diseases cause severe illness and death. But healthcare services are not uniform across Australia for people living with these diseases.” A new Targeted Translation Research Accelerator Research Plan calls for ‘better methods of getting that care to people.”

Prof Prins continued. “One way to improve care is to build our knowledge of the causes of diabetes and CVD. “If you have both these diseases, they get worse faster than if you had just one disease. If we can find common mechanisms causing both diseases we can attack them both at the same time. The research plan also calls for new ways to predict who is at risk of diabetes and CVD and their complications. This will help health practitioners get the right care to people at risk. We want health practitioners to recognise patients they need to escalate to that next level of care. That might be the GP 100kms down the road or a major centre that can do further investigations.”

The plan supports researchers to build our knowledge about disease mechanisms and risk prediction with Incubator project funding. This research will help develop new diagnostics, devices, therapies and risk predictors for people living with diabetes and CVD. The plan also supports funding for large-scale multidisciplinary projects that use technology and data to improve care. The large-scale projects will be codesigned with consumers and health services to:

  • improve remote patient monitoring
  • focus on urban, rural, regional and remote areas
  • focus on First Nations people
  • focus on culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people.

The aim of these projects is to improve access to high-quality, patient-centred care.

To view the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care news article Improving health outcomes for people with diabetes and cardiovascular disease in full click here.

ATSI man gripping chest

Image source; Medical Journal of Australia.

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