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There was a significant increase in the use of services targeted at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2009-10 compared with the previous year, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

These Commonwealth-funded services, the majority of which are community controlled, include primary health care services (such as access to doctors, nurses and medical specialists), stand-alone substance use rehabilitation and treatment services, and Bringing Them Home and Link Up counselling services.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services report, 2009–10: OATSIH Services Reporting—key results, shows primary health care services targeted at Indigenous Australians provided 2.4 million episodes of care in 2009-10.

‘This was a 14% increase in episodes of primary health care compared with 2008-09,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr Norbert Zmijewski.

More than three-quarters of clients (78% or 357,000) were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander; this is a similar estimated proportion to the previous year.

‘Access to primary health care is critical for preventing ill health, effectively managing chronic disease and improving health outcomes to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,’ Dr Zmijewski said.

Substance use services provided treatment and assistance to around 26,300 clients in 2009-10—an increase of 14% compared with 2008-09.

‘Tobacco, alcohol and substance misuse are major risk factors for chronic disease and can have a significant effect on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities,’ Dr Zmijewski said.

In 2009-10, Bringing Them Home and Link Up counselling services provided counselling to about 10,700 clients—an increase of about 27% compared with 2008-09.

‘These services provide counselling to help individuals, families and communities affected by past practices of the forced removal of children from Indigenous families to unite with their families, culture and community, and to restore their social and emotional wellbeing,’ Dr Zmijewski said.

Indigenous staff made up over half of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health centre workforce in primary health care and substance use (57% and 59% respectively), while the majority of Bringing Them Home and Link Up counselling services had at least one Indigenous counsellor (89%).

‘These staffing ratios are consistent with findings in last year’s report,’ Dr Zmijewski said.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 25 October 2011

Further information: Dr Norbert Zmijewski, AIHW, tel. (02) 6249 5014, mob. 0418 271 395

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services report, 2009–10: OATSIH Services Reporting—key results