LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Improving the living conditions and reinvigorating social programs hold the key to Closing the Gap in health for Aboriginal communities.
Dr Simon Quilty
Today, National Close the Gap Day, while there is a lot of focus on alcohol, crime and violence in communities such as Alice Springs, it is the long-term, underlying issues that are the real problem here.
We are definitely experiencing difficulty in attracting, retaining and housing health professionals right across the NT, addressing this issue in isolation of the greater social disparity only makes the problem worse.
When our patients do not have adequate housing, and are living in conditions that are extremely detrimental to the health, education and basic safety of their residents, this provides fertile grounds for youth disengagement, domestic violence and social disharmony.
There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness that is a key contributing factor to the issues affecting these communities and this has been exacerbated by the social fallout after COVID which has resulted in the cessation of many social programs that previously supported many people, particularly youth, in these communities.
How does it look to our patients when doctors and nurses are provided with accommodation, when they are sleeping in shifts so they can fit in the increasing number of people needing basic shelter?
Extreme disparity exists even within our Aboriginal health workforce. Alice Springs Hospital Aboriginal Liaison Officers, who provide interpreting services essential to the delivery of health care to our patients, are the lowest paid interpreters in the country.
These are essential health workers, who speak many dialects, and the value of their skills must be equitable with interpreter salaries for government services for immigrants to Australia.
NT rural doctors are also calling for parenting programs that are culturally appropriate; alcohol management programs; grants for NT general practice resulting in increased service capacity; homes with social spaces for visitors and outdoor space (fire pit) for cooking and yarning; and safe places in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine for children to go when home situation is not safe.
Once we have plans in place to address the underlying structural issues affecting Aboriginal communities, only then can we turn our attention to addressing the quality and supply of accommodation for our health professionals.
Putting the needs of health workers so far ahead of those of the communities they serve is counter-productive, and while it may look like a band-aid fix, in reality it is undermining the health outcomes and delaying Closing the Gap.
Dr Simon Quilty
Formerly based at Alice Springs hospital and currently working with Purple House.
PHOTOS above: Ringer Soak Health Clinic in WA. At top: Bush homes need social spaces for visitors and outdoor space, a fire pit for cooking and yarning. Centre for Remote Health.