CareSearch Blog: Palliative Perspectives

The views and opinions expressed in our blog series are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health.

Approaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander palliative care differently

A guest blog post by the project team at Aboriginal Health Council of SA (AHCSA)

  • 24 March 2021
  • Author: Guest
  • Number of views: 826
Approaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander palliative care differently

“I am really happy to work on this project to fill in the gaps around the palliative care system for our people. I have family currently accessing it and I can see this work isProfile picture of Sarah Betts very much needed” says Sarah Betts who is the community consultation co-lead and Aboriginal Health Worker at the Aboriginal Health Council of SA (AHCSA).

Caring for people and guiding loved ones to pass with dignity and respect is a healing process that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been practicing for centuries. Values and beliefs about dying or ‘finishing up’ are tied deeply into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s cultural practices.

However, factors including the influence of colonial violence and trauma, chronic disease, systematic racism, and the associated disadvantages have all attributed to complicating the grieving process and has meant death has become a taboo topic which is difficult to discuss.

For some time, there has been a persistent gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People engaging with and accessing important palliative care services. Issues around cultural safety, a lack of resources or services to support being on or returning to Country, and recognising the importance of family obligation relating to death all play a part in the lack of engagement with western palliative care services. 

Under a one-off funding scheme through the SA Department for Health and Wellbeing, AHCSA is working to improve palliative care services and make the final stages of life more comfortable for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and their families. 

As the peak body for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services in SA, and with extensive experience in developing and delivering culturally-contextualised accredited training, AHCSA will be working on the development of a new palliative care training package.

The training package will be designed to specially support and care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients accessing palliative care, offering culturally appropriate skills and knowledge targeted at the health workforce responsible for delivering these services.

The development of the training package will be guided by an expert group of industry, health workforce, and community-based professionals. The group is made up of majority Aboriginal representatives to coordinate, oversee, and guide the progress of this training package. The input of this expert group reflects AHCSAs core values including Aboriginal community control and leadership. 

To place at the centre the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who are at the heart of this work, this project also involves community consultation, ensuring that we are incorporating and understanding community views. In the coming weeks, Aboriginal Health Workers Sarah Betts and Joshua Riessen (pictured), will coordinate and lead a series of community consultations where they will be asking:

  • What is palliative care to this community?
  • How does it work for the community?
  • What else is needed for each community? 

Starting conversations about death and dying is a complex piece of work and AHCSA is fortunate to have Sarah and Joshua bring their wealth of experience and highly developed skill sets to the project.

Both are able to manage sensitive conversations with respect and compassion, prioritising the needs and well-being of all participants, as well as understanding the need for their own self-care.

Profile picture of Josh Riessen“I’m really keen to co-lead this community consultation and hear more about what our mob needs. Especially for our Elders who are getting older” says Josh Riessen, community consultation co-lead and Aboriginal Health Worker, AHCSA.

As the community consultation kicks off, AHCSA will be working towards fulfilling the requirements for national accreditation and recognition of this training package. 

As a leading peak body, AHCSA is eager to advocate for the implementation of this important training tool in order to improve services and the overall care delivered by non-Aboriginal allied health workers who support the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people, their families and communities.

For more information about AHCSA work on loss and grief work visit the Rising Spirits Grief and Loss website and for more information on AHCSA and RTO training visit the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia website.

To find out more about the project or to participate in the community consultation please contact:
Gabbie Zizzo
RTO Project Coordinator
Aboriginal Health Council of SA Ltd
220 Franklin Street, Adelaide SA 5000
Ph: (08) 8273 7200 | email:


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The CareSearch blog Palliative Perspectives informs and provides a platform for sharing views, tips and ideas related to palliative care from community members and health professionals. 

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