Indigenous people more likely to have heart attacks, less likely to receive medical procedures

A new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals some concerning statistics about heart attacks and treatment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ms Sushma Mathur of the AIHW's Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes Unit said that the report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with coronary heart disease: further perspectives on health status and treatment, is the first study of this scale to measure Indigenous hospital procedure rates relative to the need for those procedures, taking case complexity into account.

'It is well known that Indigenous Australians have much higher death rates from heart attacks than other Australians, but what we haven't known is whether this is because they are more likely to have a heart attack in the first place, have lower survival rates, receive less treatment, or present as more complex cases,' she said.

The study found that Indigenous Australians are considerably more likely to suffer a heart attack and to die from it, regardless of whether or not they are admitted to hospital. And even when admitted to hospital they are less likely to receive some medical investigations or common lifesaving procedures.

'This is a complex issue, and there are many factors that impact on the health outcomes for Indigenous people - socioeconomic differences and location are just two of the factors that could contribute to these lower procedure rates,' Ms Mathur said.

The report found that compared with other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had three times the rate of a 'major coronary events' such as heart attacks.

When admitted to hospital for coronary heart disease Indigenous Australians had

  • More than twice the chance of dying in hospital
  • A 40% lower rate of being investigated by angiography
  • A 40% lower rate of coronary angioplasty or stent procedures
  • A 20% lower rate of coronary bypass surgery

'It should be noted that the study was limited in some respects because it did not control for socioeconomic status or remoteness, and only data from Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory had adequate identification of Indigenous Australians.

'However, even allowing for those limitations, the size of the disparities in health outcomes and treatment is disturbing. It makes a compelling case that ways must be found to better understand and eliminate those disparities,' Ms Mathur said.

27 September 2006

Further information: Ms Sushma Mathur, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1067, or mob. 0407 915 851.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.