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15 Apr 2014

The AMA has called for reform of funding for Indigenous health following the release of a report showing that Aboriginal community controlled health services deliver substantial economic and health benefits.

The report Economic value of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services found that, in addition to their effectiveness in improving health care, Indigenous-operated health organisations deliver significant economic benefits to the communities they serve, providing well-paid jobs for 3200 Aboriginal people, boosting education with on-site training and offering valuable career paths.

The study was commissioned by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, and Chair Justin Mohamed said the contribution made by his member organisations should not be underestimated.

“Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations are major contributors to closing the appalling health gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians by providing culturally appropriate primary health care to Aboriginal people,” Mr Mohamed said. “We now know that they are even more valuable – providing employment and training opportunities to our people, which in turn boost local economies and tackle some of the huge barriers to Aboriginal people achieving economic independence and quality of life.”

He said that, ultimately, this resulted in lower health and other costs.

“The ripple effect of healthy Aboriginal communities cannot be overestimated,” Mr Mohamed said. “Healthy communities keep our kids in school, keep our adults in the workforce and provide a greater opportunity for participation in broader society. Ultimately, that means reducing welfare dependency, reducing criminal justice rates and diverting people from the need for more expensive health care.”

The current $300 million funding commitment to Aboriginal community controlled health services expires at the end of June, prompting calls for more robust funding arrangements.

Mr Mohamed wants the funding quarantined from any cuts in the forthcoming Federal Budget, and AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton urged sufficient Commonwealth investment “to secure the future of these important services”.

Dr Hambleton said there was an urgent need for reform of how the sector is funded.

“The AMA believes that an analysis should be conducted to determine needs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health at a regional level,” he said. “Based on that analysis, Aboriginal community controlled health services should be established and appropriately funded I areas of need, according to the demand for services.

The AMA President said differences in funding between jurisdictions should also be reviewed to ensure there was an equitable distribution of resources, according to need.

The Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs, Warren Snowdon, said it was “unacceptable” that decisions on the future funding of Aboriginal community controlled health services had been left so late in the financial year.

Mr Mohamed lamented the insecurity of funding for the sector, and the fact that often funds earmarked for Aboriginal health were diverted into mainstream services, “which simply don’t have the same runs on the board with Aboriginal health as our services do”.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 15 Apr 2014