Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, Health Practitioners, and Liaison Officers are the cornerstone for the delivery of health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in rural primary care settings.
Their role is crucial to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are often the first health care worker an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patient would see. They offer cultural expertise and a cultural lens for engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and their families. They provide cross-cultural advocacy for patients and families and form a vital part of the interdisciplinary team who care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Their involvement, along with the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, nurses, and allied health workers increases the likelihood of a patient feeling culturally safe in the health service. They also help to ensure that the patient has a good understanding of the diagnosis and treatment advice. They can also help families to coordinate and navigate through the system of health services and procedures needed for their care.
The key goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for people who are sick and not going to get better, and improve quality of life for their families too. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care workforce can play a pivotal role in achieving this goal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their families, carers, and communities. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care workforce alongside the broader support workforce such as enrolled nurses and allied health assistants are instrumental in providing quality palliative care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
"Our indigenous health workers . . . if we didn’t have them I just don’t know what we would do. They are just brilliant."
Quote from Northern Territory Health Care provider.
Source: McGrath PD, Patton MA, Ogilvie KF, Rayner RD, McGrath ZM, Holewa HA. The case for Aboriginal Health Workers in palliative care (225kb pdf). Australian Health Review 2007;31(3):430-9. Page 436.
I coordinate the care of palliative care patients. The Medical Officer is in charge of the care and I just bring it all together... People are more comfortable if I’m there, whatever the service is. The protocol here is for a health worker to assist them on the first visit. It makes the job a lot easier – it’s all about building rapport. I think the harmony between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers really helps. If they see that there’s a good working relationship there, and they can see that I trust them, then they’re going to trust them. It takes a special person to deliver palliative care. Sure, you have to be strong – but also you’ve got to have a heart. People are frightened, it’s really life-shattering to learn you only have a short time to live. My fulfilment is just being there for them. “I’m passionate about what I do. It is an honour and privilege to serve my people and be able to help them."
Aboriginal Health Worker Paul Munn’s story.
Source: Kate Sullivan and Associates Pty Ltd on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Palliative Care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People (618kb pdf). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Commonwealth of Australia; 2004. Page 3.
My job entails looking after the palliative care clients and their family from their first consultation when they’ve been referred to the palliative care unit... My motto is I treat my patients how I want my family to be treated, and I don’t treat any different, whether they are homeless in the river bed or whether they live in a flash house in the community. I’ve seen both sides of the fence, and I think I probably went more out of my way for the guy in the riverbed. The thing that I enjoy most at the end of the day is when I know I’ve done my absolute best for that family, and they come back and tell me that they really appreciate how I’ve helped them. That gives me my greatest pleasure, knowing that I was able to help a family and support them in their time of need.
Palliative Care Aboriginal Liaison Officer Helen Burns's story.
Source: Kate Sullivan and Associates Pty Ltd on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Palliative Care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People (618kb pdf). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Commonwealth of Australia; 2004. Page 11.
The Program for Experience in the Palliative Approach - PEPA offers free workshops to members of the health care workforce who are interested in learning about the palliative approach. PEPA provides an opportunity for primary health care providers to develop skills in the palliative approach by undertaking a supervised clinical placement for up to five days within a palliative care specialist service. These placements offer experiential learning and may include visits to various facilities providing palliative care. PEPA also offers tailored workshops on the palliative approach to care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals. There is also a Learning Guide (2.53MB pdf) that discusses various palliative care issues.
NAATSIHWP provides a video on the PEPA Program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health workers wanting to know about palliative care and PEPA.
The value of PEPA placements for Indigenous health practitioners has been demonstrated in a recent journal article.
There are many good quality palliative care resources that can help you in providing care.
These resources highlight the essential role played by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care workforce in ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients receive culturally safe and responsive palliative care.
The Patients, Families and Community Journeys section within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Care section has a range of resources that you can print for your patients and their families on many different topics. You can also suggest that patients and their family and community members visit the section of the CareSearch website themselves.
Last updated 25 September 2023