Improving Indigenous health through better access to health services and housing strategies

Ways of improving access to health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and housing strategies that improve Indigenous health are examined in two new papers released today on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website.

The paper, Improving the accessibility of health services in urban and regional settings for Indigenous people, shows that health services can be inaccessible due to physical and economic barriers and barriers relating to lack of respect for Indigenous culture and understanding of the holistic way Indigenous people view their health and wellbeing. The paper outlines a range of strategies to improve access to health services. These include:

  • Ensuring that communities are aware of the services available to them and their locations
  • Physical accessibility can be improved by providing transport to get clients to where a service is located; providing services closer to residential areas where there are a large proportion of Indigenous families and by providing some services through home visiting programs
  • Flexibility in setting appointments and providing services in non-traditional settings and ensuring that Indigenous Australians can have equal access to Indigenous-specific or mainstream services
  • Employing Indigenous staff is one of the strategies that can assist to bridge the cultural gaps.

The second paper released today, Housing strategies that improve Indigenous health outcomes, explores the links between housing quality and health outcomes, and identifies a range of practices that can improve the condition of Indigenous housing.

It shows there are a wide range of housing interventions that positively impact Indigenous health, including: infrastructure improvements; addressing behavioural factors; and adjustments to policy environments.

Improved housing conditions can reduce health system costs, and improve participation in education and employment.

Functioning hardware such as taps, toilets and wastewater disposal systems and preventing or removing damp, mould and fungus all clearly contribute to reductions in a range of skin and respiratory diseases. Improving the temperature regulation indoors reduces premature mortality from extremes of outdoor temperature.

Flexible and adaptable housing designs reduce social stresses by reducing the negative impacts of crowding, and stability of housing is vital for improving and maintaining mental health.

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse (http://www.aihw.gov.au/closingthegap/) is jointly funded by all Australian governments and provides an online source of information on what works to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. It is delivered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).

Canberra, 18 December 2013

Further information: Jess Cumming, AIHW, tel. 02 6249 5033 mob. 0401 769 793 or Elizabeth Ingram, tel. 6249 5048 or 0431 871 337