Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Over $200 million for closing the gap in Indigenous health

Joint Media Release with:

  • Nicola Roxon MP, Minister for Health and Ageing

The Rudd Government is investing a further $204.3 million in the 2009-10 Budget to improve health care in Indigenous communities and help close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The Government has committed:

  • $131.1 million for remote primary health;
  • $58.3 million for eye and ear health care;
  • $11.0 million for dental care; and
  • $3.8 million to improve pathology services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

$131.1 million for remote primary health

The Rudd Government is providing $131.1 million over three years for continued regional reform of remote Indigenous primary health care services in the Northern Territory.

This will help to ensure coordinated delivery of primary care services and better health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the Northern Territory, with a focus on children’s health.

Specific elements of the initiative include:

  • continuation of the Remote Area Health Corps, which will deliver and support more doctors, nurses and other health professionals;
  • completion of follow up services for dental and ear, nose and throat conditions identified through the Northern Territory Emergency Response child health checks;
  • expansion of the current Mobile Outreach Service to respond to child abuse-related trauma; and
  • continuation of alcohol and other drug treatment and rehabilitation services.

$58.3 million for eye and ear health

The Government is providing $58.3 million over four years to improve access to eye and ear health care across Australia, particularly in remote and rural areas.

Approximately 20,000 Indigenous children suffer from trachoma in Australia. The early onset of middle ear infection results in fluctuating hearing loss, preventing active participation in education and limiting employment opportunities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also at increased risk of developing avoidable blindness and vision loss and are less likely to visit eye health care practitioners than other Australians.

The funding will provide:

  • at least 1,000 additional eye and ear surgical procedures;
  • a major increase in services to address trachoma, which will enable at least 10 regional teams to treat and help prevent the disease in NT, WA, SA and other states where trachoma is identified;
  • expansion of the Visiting Optometrist Scheme in remote and very remote communities;
  • increased training of health workers to help early diagnosis of hearing problems;
  • investments in hearing medical equipment; and
  • hearing health promotion to increase awareness of ear disease and the importance of providing and following treatment to reduce hearing loss in Indigenous communities.

The funding will also boost the qualifications of health professionals by increasing accredited training and improving the co-ordination of patient care.

It will also improve the early detection and treatment of eye and ear health conditions, leading to improved employment outcomes and increased participation in community life.

$11 million for dental health

Improving dental care is an election commitment and policy priority for the Government.

The Rudd Government is providing $11.0 million over four years to improve Indigenous oral health, which is significantly worse than that of the general population.

This initiative will pilot the use of mobile dental facilities to deliver dental care services to rural and regional Indigenous communities.

Improving access to dental health services in priority areas will assist in closing the gap in health, education and employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Poor oral health can affect educational and employment outcomes and can exacerbate other chronic diseases and their risk factors, such as poor nutrition.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have twice the level of dental cavities compared to the general population and are less likely to have these treated.

Indigenous Australians are about 20 per cent less likely to visit a dentist and living outside a capital city increases this disadvantage.

Improving Indigenous eye, ear and oral health will help children get the start in life they deserve and deliver improvements in literacy and numeracy, which in turn has flow-on effects to improved employment outcomes.

$3.8 million for pathology services

The Australian Government will provide $3.8 million over four years to continue the Quality Assurance for Aboriginal Medical Services program to improve pathology services supporting the effective management of diabetes among Indigenous people.

These measures are in addition to the $805.5 million the Commonwealth committed to at COAG last year to tackle Indigenous chronic disease – the greatest contributor to the life expectancy gap.