Hunter New England Health focus on improving health for Aboriginal people as part of National Close the Gap Day

Susan Heyman

Susan Heyman

Strong improvements in disease prevention and early intervention, particularly in the areas of screening and access to health care, are being highlighted on National Close the Gap Day.

Executive Director Rural and Regional Health Services Susan Heyman said the District will host its Annual Close the Gap Forum today, an opportunity for staff and partner organisations to collaborate to further improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“We will be focusing on how we can work together to reduce the gap in life expectancy and address the disparity in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians,” Ms Heyman said.

Positively, antenatal care in the first trimester has increased by 6.3 per cent since last year, and the number of women aged 50 to 69 years who had a breast screen improved by 3.3 per cent.

Ms Heyman said that while the District has made inroads in some aspects of Aboriginal health, there is still much work to do.

The number of Aboriginal mothers who are breastfeeding when they leave hospital after birth has plateaued.

Also, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal mothers who smoke during pregnancy and the number of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal babies born with a low birthweight, has widened.

Ms Heyman said HNE Health remains committed to reducing the rate of smoking in pregnancy by continuing to provide all pregnant women who smoke with education and advice on supports they can access as they try to quit.

The District is also focused on increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff members.

“Approximately 4.65 per cent of HNE Health staff identify as Aboriginal - this is well above the state target of two per cent,” Ms Heyman said.

HNE Health also runs the Aboriginal Health Workers Clinical Practice Project which upskills Aboriginal Health Workers to become Aboriginal Health Practitioners.

“This enables staff to undertake more clinical assessments in rural and remote communities to better assess, refer and treat Aboriginal people,” Ms Heyman said.

“Our annual Close the Gap forum gives us the chance to discuss with staff first-hand what still needs to be done so we can focus on and drive these results to gaining better health outcomes for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

“We will continue our efforts to close the unacceptable gaps and ensure equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”