Closing the gap: bit by bit

For the past few years staff from across Sydney Children's Hospitals Network have been working to close the health care gap for Indigenous families.

Back in 2013, a group of clinicians and I surveyed staff and families from every area of the hospital to discover opportunities to improve healthcare for Aboriginal patients.

Earlier this week our findings were published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, and concluded less than half of staff reported receiving specific training in Aboriginal healthcare.

The survey revealed that 80 per cent of clinical staff did not ask patients if they were Aboriginal. While the Clincial Support Administrator may have asked and recorded the information, clinical staff may not be informed or check these records.

It is vital that clinicians understand how our own cultural backgrounds influence the healthcare consultation, and that in understanding our Aboriginal patients’ worldview and their experiences, we can learn how to work collaboratively with them in improve healthcare outcomes.

The survey also revealed that just half of the health professionals referred Aboriginal families to an Aboriginal staff member. If Aboriginal patients felt safer within the health system, access and utilisation could increase.

Addressing gaps in the knowledge, attitudes and practices of healthcare professionals is important to improve the experience of Aboriginal patients encountering the healthcare system.

Since this study, NSW Health has implemented mandatory training for all staff called Respecting the Difference. The training provides a framework to develop cultural competencies and promote greater understanding of the processes and protocols involved in delivering quality healthcare to Aboriginal people.

A/Prof Hasantha Gunasekera, General Medicine, The Children's Hospital at Westmead.

  • Read the Prime Minister's Report on Closing the Gap
  • Contact an Aboriginal Liaison Officer at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick please call (02) 8347 4800
  • Contact an Aboriginal Liaison Officer at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead please call (02) 9845 2641