Cancer is one of the leading causes of burden of disease for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. Many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples face challenges when accessing and engaging with cancer care services, from the very early to advanced stage of disease.
To establish the nature and scope of this concern, palliative care and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander professionals from the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Peter Mac), looked at past experiences to see what needed to be done to improve cancer care and treatment for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander patients, and their families.
Director of the Parkville Integrated Cancer Service at the RMH and Peter Mac, Professor Brian Le, says the main scope of this project was to identify the barriers and facilitators to be able to provide cancer care for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in the best possible way.
“We found that the proportion of people who identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander was actually lower than we had expected,” said Prof Le.
“This either meant we were not providing culturally safe care in a place where our patients and their families felt they could identify as Aboriginal, or as Torres Strait Islander, or perhaps we were not meeting the needs of these patients as well as we could have,” he added.
To help close this gap, focus groups and interviews were conducted over a 12 month period, which helped establish and provide recommendations on what needed to be done to improve this type of care for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in Victoria.
“Something we wanted to bring to the forefront of this project was Aboriginal voices,” said the RMH’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples Hospital Liaison Officer, Gabrielle Ebsworth.
“We’ve done that through a number of focus and study groups. It is not only healthcare providers who took part, but also people who have experienced cancer at some point throughout their lives, or within their families,” she added.
A main finding from the project revealed that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples who are receiving, or has received care or treatment, do not make their Aboriginal identity known to their treatment team.
“This project has really shown us that we need to make sure we are providing our Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander patients with a safe and inclusive space, so they feel comfortable speaking about their heritage and experiences,” Gabrielle added.
This project was funded by Western and Central Melbourne Integrated Cancer Service.
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