Labor has today called on Tony Abbott to improve the health services available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, following the release today of a damning Productivity Commission report.
The report on Government Services to Indigenous Australians is a warning to Tony Abbott to re-think the direction of his Government’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy.
It shows that while there have been some improvements in life expectancy and infant mortality rates there was an increase in preventable deaths. Low birth weights remain double the non-indigenous rate, preventable hospitalisations are three times higher and incidences of chronic diseases are much worse than for the non-Indigenous population.
The 2014-15 budget saw $165 million cut from Indigenous health programs and $50 billion in cuts to our hospitals.
The report raises questions about the impact of the Government’s plan to raise the co-payments for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) listed medicines. It shows a massive one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people did not purchase the medicine their Doctor prescribed because they could not afford it (see table 10A.44).
The impact of Labors’ investment in primary care and health checks has had an impact.
Between 2009-10 and 2011–12 the number of children receiving a 4th Year Developmental Health Check jumped from 31.5 to 51 per cent while the number of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people receiving an annual health assessment jumped from 8.7 to 30.4 per cent.
But Tony Abbott has cruelly stopped this progress in its tracks.
The Government has frozen the Tackling Indigenous Smoking Program, cutting $27.6 million from it in the last year, even though the report shows that Indigenous smoking rates present a huge gap that needs to be addressed. Some 42 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders smoke cigarettes compared to 16 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians.
This is the biggest single contributor to the health gap.
These are long term problems which require sustained commitment from the Commonwealth not another round of budget cuts, short term funding band aids and policy indecision.