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  • Push for cultural safety into legislation

    Author: Karen Keast

Cultural safety should be embedded into Australia’s health practitioners’ legislation to drive culturally safe health services that achieve better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) is lobbying for changes to national legislation that prioritises cultural safety, and requires key health regulatory bodies to embed cultural safety in health professional education, training and practice.

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CATSINaM CEO Janine Mohamed said evidence shows the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is being harmed because too many health services and health professionals are providing culturally unsafe care.

“Cultural safety needs to be embedded at all levels of health care – from policy development and implementation, to health service management and delivery, research, and education and training,” she said.

“Embedding cultural safety into the health practitioners’ legislation, as is done in New Zealand, is one important way of working towards health care that helps rather than harms Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to access health services that are respectful and culturally safe.

“Likewise, if we can improve the cultural safety of health care services, we will improve the recruitment, retention and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, nurses, midwives and other health professionals.”

Ms Mohamed said embedding cultural safety into legislation will ensure the successful implementation of relevant health service standards to support cultural safety.

She said the second edition of the National Quality and Safety Health Service Standards will work to tackle the lack of safety and quality health service standards applying to mainstream health services, that specifically address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

CATSINaM has called for the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009 to be amended to clearly identify cultural safety, respect and Aboriginal health as a priority.

The representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives, which has a position statement on Embedding Cultural Safety across Australian Nursing and Midwifery, has written to health ministers seeking the legislative change.

Ms Mohamed said the amendments to the Act should also include the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the National Boards responsible for regulation of specific health professions, including the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), to ensure cultural safety is included in health professionals’ education, training and practice.

“Our NMBA has begun this journey, and we have seen great support from AHPRA with their first workshop on developing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy for the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, taking place in September 2016,” she said.

“At this meeting we discussed how to best work together to support better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - identifying the role of the National Registration Accreditation Scheme’s (National Scheme) strategy in ensuring patient safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s health system.”

Ms Mohamed said a health barometer, similar to the Reconciliation Australia Barometer, could be developed to measure the success of embedding cultural safety into legislation.

“Our vision for a health barometer is that a regular research study would map the cultural safety of health services, programs and policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, communities, employees and health professionals,” she said.

“It would provide a powerful tool for identifying areas that need further work and for improving the quality and safety of health care services.”

Ms Mohamed said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for just three per cent of the Australian population, yet Indigenous Australians “punch well above our numbers” in a range of sectors, including health.

“But we can’t achieve the degree of change that is needed to ensure health care is culturally safe for our people without the support and engagement of ‘the 97 per cent’,” she said.

“We want to see all nurses, midwives and allied health professionals engaging with the movement towards cultural safety, and supporting our work at CATSINaM.”


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords