Lighthouse project shines a light on best practice healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients

Friday, April 10, 2015

The release today of the Australian Burden of Disease Study: Fatal burden of disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2010, highlights the need to better address disparities faced by Indigenous heart attack patients and the importance of the Lighthouse Hospital project, now underway in a joint partnership between the Heart Foundation and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) with support from the Australian Government.

The report found that around 3,000 Indigenous Australians die each year, resulting in almost 100,000 years of life lost due to premature death.Cardiovascular disease (21%) contributed the most fatal burden of all diseases.  This was followed by cancer (17%), infant and congenital conditions (10%), gastrointestinal diseases (6%) and endocrine disorders (which includes diabetes) (5%).

These disease groups accounted for 82 per cent of all Indigenous years of lost life in 2010.

Ms Mary Barry, National Heart Foundation, CEO said that we know when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples present to hospitals they do not receive the same level of care as other Australians.

“These statistics suggest that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are falling through gaps at every stage of the journey through the healthcare system.

“It is unacceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to die from cardiovascular disease at greater rates and at younger ages than other Australians.

“The Lighthouse Hospital Project hopes to change traditional cultural and structural work practices that are seen as barriers to quality care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Ms Barry said.

AHHA Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said the collaboration between primary care, acute hospitals and Aboriginal health services is essential to improving coordination and quality of care, as well as reducing the disparities in health outcomes.  

“By looking at practices in hospitals and health services that achieve high quality outcomes in the care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experiencing heart attack, we have been able to identify potential areas for improvement across the health sector, including discharge planning, participation in cardiac rehabilitation and availability of culturally appropriate care. There is much scope for this work to be further developed, across Australia, and across disease groups,” Ms Verhoeven said.

In total, eight hospitals from across Australia have been selected to participate in the innovative national project to improve the service and care Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients receive when presenting to hospital with heart attack symptoms.

The project aims to provide health practitioners with the practical tools to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples receive clinically-appropriate treatment, delivered in a culturally-safe manner.

In 2012-13, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were three times more likely to have a heart attack and nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease compared with non-Indigenous Australians.

Vicki Wade Cultural Lead at the Heart Foundation believes if service differentials addressing disparities are achieved, significant gains in health outcomes can be achieved.

“It is critical that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples receive evidenced based and culturally appropriate therapy from the point of first clinical contact through to ongoing care.

“While the investment in the Close the Gap initiative has seen some improvement in the cardiovascular health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, greater gains need to be made,” she said.

The Lighthouse Hospital Project is funded by the Department of Health and is a partnership between the Heart Foundation and the AHHA.

Media contacts:

Julia Power, National Heart Foundation Media Advisor, 0478 313 656

Alison Verhoeven, AHHA Chief Executive, 0403 282 501