We are dedicated to improving healthcare for our Indigenous community by raising awareness of the impact of diseases and promoting health equity for all Australians.
Some years back, I documented my experiences at the Aboriginal Medical Services Redfern. What struck me was the discomfort experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within the structured environment of mainstream hospital clinics. I often joked about having six patients scheduled but typically seeing a different set than originally booked.
Unfortunately, the onset of COVID-19 and related restrictions halted travel and in-person clinics. Consequently, I stepped back from my clinical and operative roles at St Vincent’s Public and St Vincent’s Private Hospitals, reaching a particular stage in my career.
Leading up to this decision, my involvement extended beyond the Aboriginal Medical Services Redfern. I played a significant role in the Australian Army, focusing on the health of regional Forces in the top 50% of Australia. Three units—Norforce, Pilbara, and 51 FNQ—each comprised 30% Aboriginal members. As the senior health advisor to the second division, I provided most of their medical support. This role gave me insights into the health disparities among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, notably their heightened susceptibility to Rheumatic fever and the prevalence of diabetes across age groups.
The impact of COVID-19 also affected plans to rotate resident staff to Bamega Hospital, the northernmost hospital in Australia servicing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on the Cape York Peninsula. Diabetes was a prevalent condition in this area, highlighting the challenges faced in providing adequate treatment.
I share these observations because we continue to grapple with the persistent health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the broader population. A ten-year difference in life expectancy persists, demanding our attention. In Sydney, we’re fortunate but mindful of the diverse Indigenous communities nationwide that require support. The St Vincent’s Clinic Research Foundation actively backs projects addressing the health concerns of people experiencing homelessness, a significant number of whom are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Written by A/Prof Brett Courtenay OAM, an Orthopaedic Surgeon, specialising in joint replacement, knee surgery, primary and revision hip surgery, and medicolegal consultation, and the President of St Vincent’s Clinic Research Foundation Advisory Board.