Recognising the centrality of culture to health and wellbeing is necessary to enhance service access, equity and effectiveness. Cultural security is fundamental to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal Territorians and supporting healthy communities.
Aboriginal people are almost one third of the NT population and have the greatest health and welfare needs of any group of Territorians. The legacy of colonisation as well as racism and discrimination contribute to poor health outcomes for Aboriginal people. These factors mean that Aboriginal people are less likely to seek out health services when necessary. Negative stereotypes and assumptions about Aboriginal people in Australian culture are also present in our health services, and this can result in people feeling disrespected or not receiving the best care possible.
- Research demonstrates that there are links between culture, safety and quality of health services and patient outcomes. A person’s culture, how secure one feels about the health care received, as well as how information is delivered, impacts on what a person hears and understands, and how one engages with care providers and makes decisions.
- It is well documented that too many Aboriginal people present later for treatment with diseases that are in more advanced stages than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Aboriginal people may be less likely to access services early on due to the legacy of colonisation and culturally unsafe practices. Aboriginal people are also more likely to be hospitalised but are less likely to receive medical or surgical procedures in hospital.This can be at least partly attributed to discriminatory actions, assumptions and systemic issues.
- Communication is a broad area in Aboriginal cultural security and encompasses access to interpreters; health information that is accessible for diverse audiences; respect for the rights, views and decisions of Aboriginal people; and supporting enhanced health literacy for consumers and clinicians. The costs of miscommunication are high and varied and range from unnecessary tests, preventable readmissions, the violation of health consumers’ dignity and likelihood of avoiding health services, as well as adverse events.
Cultural security is a clinical imperative and must be embedded into systematic business practices. Aboriginal cultural security is fundamental to NT Health delivering safe, quality health care and addressing the health inequity and the significant burden of disease experienced by Aboriginal people.