Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heart health program gets next stage funding green light

Friday, February 10, 2017

Visiting Liverpool Hospital in Sydney’s west today, Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt today announced that Phase 3 of the Lighthouse project, a joint initiative between the Heart Foundation and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) has been awarded Commonwealth funding.

Heart Foundation National CEO Adjunct Professor John Kelly said the funding would enable the program—which commenced in 2012—to take the critical next step in its mission.

“We commend the Government, and Minister Wyatt in particular, on making this issue a priority. Providing critical funding to enable Phase 3 of this initiative is a very tangible expression of its commitment to addressing this major inequity,” he said.

One of the priorities for the Heart Foundation is closing the gap in cardiovascular disease between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This initiative will enable us to better achieve this by helping ensure that more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Australians receive appropriate evidence-based care for acute coronary syndrome in a culturally safe manner.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience cardiovascular disease earlier than non-Indigenous Australians, it progresses faster and is associated with greater co-morbidities. Add to this more frequent hospitalisation and greater risk of premature death and the gravity of this issue along with the need to address it becomes clear.

“When comparing health outcomes to the non-Indigenous population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients require more frequent admissions to hospital and are at risk of premature death as a result of these events. 

“Close collaboration between service providers, those in the not-for-profit sector such as the Heart Foundation and AHHA, hospitals and other health practitioners and of course, Government, is vitally important if we’re to effectively address the issue just outlined. This approach is embodied by the Lighthouse Project.

“It was a privilege to work with the Liverpool Hospital team during Phase 2 to test the Quality Improvement Toolkit known as ‘Improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with acute coronary syndrome’.  The hospital should be commended on the progress made,” Adj Professor Kelly said.

“We welcome today’s funding announcement by the Australian Government for the Lighthouse Indigenous cardiac care program”, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Acting Chief Executive Dr Linc Thurecht said today.

“The Lighthouse Hospital Project is a joint initiative of the Heart Foundation and ourselves and is funded by the Commonwealth Health Department. It drives change in hospital settings to improve care and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experiencing Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS).

“The case for change is compelling.

“Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death among Indigenous Australians—they are 1.6 times as likely to die from it as non-Indigenous Australians.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are more likely to be admitted to hospital for ACS episodes—heart attack or angina—and are more likely to die in hospital as a result of these episodes.

“But while in hospital, Indigenous Australians are less likely than non-Indigenous Australians to undergo coronary tests and procedures. And they are also more likely to leave hospital against medical advice.

“Hospitals have a critical role to play in improving access to evidence-based care and reducing disparities in care. Together with reducing self-discharge rates, these improvements will lead to better patient outcomes as well as resulting in long term savings to hospitals and the health care system”, said Dr Thurecht.

Phase 3 will also focus on improving the integration of health services and care coordination by enhancing the relationships between hospitals, local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and Primary Health Networks.

Phase 1 focused on the key elements of culturally safe, positive consumer experiences as reviewed by 10 organisations recognised by their peers as providing exemplary care in the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients with ACS.

Phase 2 involved developing a quality improvement toolkit and implementing the improvements in eight pilot hospitals across the five mainland states.

Phase 3 extends the project to 18 hospitals across Australia, capturing around 50 per cent of all cardiac condition admissions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Cardiac care has made enormous strides over the last three decades or more, resulting in lower mortality and increased life expectancy. It is vital that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples also benefit as much as possible from these care improvements. Getting the improvements is about more than just straight cardiac care, however. It’s also about integrating services and improving communication among hospitals, local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, Indigenous patients and communities, primary health networks, and health professionals.

“If we can reduce the death rate from cardiovascular disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to the same as for the total population, their average life expectancy would rise significantly,” Dr Thurecht said.

Learn more about the Lighthouse hospital project.