Recognising the historic experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients is key to reconciliation

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Understanding the history behind why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients are five times more likely to leave hospital against medical advice is key to achieving reconciliation in the hospital system, the Heart Foundation and Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) said today.

Starting today, National Reconciliation Week’s theme ‘Don’t Keep History a Mystery’ highlights the importance of all Australians exploring our past, learning more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, and developing a deeper understanding of our national story.

Reitai Minogue, national manager for the Lighthouse Hospital Project, said, “Closing the heart health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians requires understanding why many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients have a distrust of hospitals.

“Historic experiences such as racism, miscommunication and mistreatment have influenced the level of distrust, which is reflected in the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients are five times more likely to leave hospital against medical advice.”

The Lighthouse Hospital Project, a federally funded joint program by the Heart Foundation and the AHHA, is working with 18 hospitals around the nation to transform the experience of healthcare for Indigenous patients by trying to make their environments more culturally safe.

Dr Chris Bourke, a Gamillaroi man and Director of Strategic Programs at the AHHA, said the five dimensions of reconciliation — race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, unity and historical acceptance — directly relate to the Lighthouse goal of achieving better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients who go to hospital after a heart attack.

“The inequitable situation whereby Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are 30 per cent less likely to receive appropriate care after a heart attack demands action,” he said. “Working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and health organisations is the most effective tool for building cultural safety in our public hospitals, reducing discharge against medical advice and improving care pathways after discharge.

“Understanding the true history of Australia allows non-Indigenous clinicians and health administrators to be aware of the background to our current situation, learn about their stereotypes, reflect on practices and build trust with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Examples of positive changes include improving the hospital environment with local artwork, bush gardens and cultural spaces for family, and expanding and better supporting the Aboriginal workforce. Hospitals are developing stronger links with Aboriginal Medical Services; this means discharges are better planned, so patients are more likely to access follow up appointments, take ongoing medication and use cardiac rehabilitation services.

About the Lighthouse Hospitals Project

The Lighthouse Hospitals Project is a joint initiative of the Heart Foundation and AHHA. The $10 million third phase of the Lighthouse Hospitals Project is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health through the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program.

NSW: Coffs Harbour Health Campus, John Hunter Hospital, Liverpool Hospital, Orange Health Service and Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital

NT: Royal Darwin Hospital

QLD: Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service, Mount Isa Base Hospital, Princess Alexandra Hospital, The Prince Charles Hospital and Townsville Hospital and Health Service

SA: Flinders Medical Centre

VIC: Bairnsdale Regional Health Service

WA: Broome Regional Health Campus, Fiona Stanley Hospital, Kalgoorlie Health Campus, Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

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