The Federal Government, in cooperation with state and territory governments as well as Indigenous leaders, have released a national policy framework for improving health and wellbeing outcomes for First Nations people over the next decade.

According to Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt, the plan is the first “national health document” that will both address and embed the “health targets and Priority Reforms of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap”.

Minister Hunt described the plan as a “fundamental shift” with regard to how Governments work with Indigenous communities, and as prioritising the “community-controlled health sector and the imperative for mainstream health services to provide culturally safe and responsive care”.

Key to the framework is increase the Indigenous health workforce.

“That is indispensable,” said Minister Hunt.

“Because if people come from community, they are more likely to understand community and to come back to community.”

CEO of Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) and Chair of the Health Plan Working Group, Donna Murray called for sustainable change through the “true partnership” between government and First Nations people that the Health Plan represents, because “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know what is best for our own health and wellbeing”.

“We have ensured that the Health Plan reinforces the importance of strengths-based and rights-based approaches that embed the cultural and social determinants of health in determining our own priorities and solutions,” she said.

Murray further welcomed the role that “connection to Country, family, kinship and community” play in informing the Health Plan given their importance in Indigenous health.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt commented on the role the plan will play in guiding investment, including the announcements earlier this year of “$254 million to improve infrastructure in community controlled health services, $45 million to improve healthy birthweight under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, and a further $781 million, predominantly for aged care and mental health”.

“Further opportunities, including through funding reprioritisation, will be identified as we begin the important task of implementing the Health Plan,” he said.

Minister Wyatt touted the “strong partnerships” that have culminated in the creation of the Health Plan, and noted that “the Health Plan has embedded all four Priority Reforms of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and will drive progress against its health specific targets”.

Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the Lead Convenor of Peaks, welcomed the release of the 2021-2031 plan, emphasising the embedded nature of an “integrated life-course approach” that the Plan provides.

Turner further applauded the plan’s recognition of the role that Aboriginal community health plays.

“Our ACCHO sector is leading the way in the delivery of comprehensive primary health care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.

NACCHO CEO Pat Turner. Photo supplied NACCHO Social Media.

Turner further remarked that the implementation of the plan “will enable ACCHOs to strengthen and grow so that they can continue to deliver integrated care and primary health care services” across the coming decade.

An accountability framework has been created within the plan for governments and the mainstream health system, where objectives will be measured independently for progress reviews both mid-cycle and at the end of the plan’s lifespan.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan aims to complement the National Preventative Health Strategy, which has a focus on preventative health for Indigenous people within it.

By Aaron Bloch