Module 1: Culturally respectful health care services

The structures, policies and processes across the health system all play a role in delivering culturally respectful health care. The provision of culturally safe health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reflects the extent to which health care systems and providers are aware of and responsive to Indigenous Australians’ cultural needs and experiences. Cultural safety cannot be improved in isolation from the provision of health care.

What data are available?

Reporting in this module is limited by a lack of national, state and territory, and small area level data. The main information source is the Online Services Report (OSR), a data collection from organisations funded by the Australian Government to deliver health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme. The OSR includes organisations providing comprehensive primary care services and organisations providing maternal and child health programs and services. Mainstream services are not included in the OSR data.

National data are also reported on Indigenous Australians enrolled in health related training courses and those employed across the health system, including GPs, nurses and some specialist doctors. The Indigenous workforce is integral to ensuring that the health system addresses the health needs of Indigenous Australians in a culturally safe and sensitive way.

For further information on the data sources used in this module, see Module 1 – Data sources and data gaps.

Key findings

Among the Indigenous-specific primary health care organisations and maternal/child health services reporting to the OSR:

  • 47% of full time equivalent health staff in 2020–21 were Indigenous—this proportion varied by type of health staff, with higher proportions for Aboriginal Health Practitioners/Aboriginal Health Workers (98%) and other health workers (55%) and lower proportions for GPs (5%) and nurses and midwives (15%).
  • 40% provided interpreter services, while around one third offered culturally appropriate services such as bush tucker, bush medicine and traditional healing in 2017–18.

National health workforce data show that in Australia from 2013 to 2020, the number of Indigenous:

  • medical practitioners employed increased from 234 to 494
  • nurses and midwives employed increased from 2,434 to 4,610.

Higher education statistics from the Department of Education show that from 2001 to 2020, the rate of enrolment in health-related course for Indigenous students increased from 26.9 per 10,000 to 70.1 per 10,000.

See Module 1 data tables for all data presented in this module.

Data gaps and limitations

Following the 2017–18 reporting period, the OSR collection was streamlined and specific data items on cultural safety are currently not collected.

Data on cultural safety in mainstream health services, such as public hospitals and general practitioners, are a key data gap. Data on these services are required to provide a more comprehensive picture of culturally respectful health care for Indigenous Australians.

Module 1 domains: