Working with young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Morgan Liotta

10/10/2019 1:35:30 PM

Routine health assessments co-created with young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may soon be adopted by general practice.

Dr Geoffrey Spurling
Dr Geoffrey Spurling believes that collaboration with young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members is vital in development of his research project.

Dr Geoffrey Spurling first had the idea for his research project during a moving experience not so long ago, when he attended the funeral of a young Aboriginal woman who had committed suicide.
‘It was a profoundly sad experience,’ Dr Spurling told newsGP.
‘At the same time, community members were telling me that social and emotional wellbeing, especially for young people, was a health priority.
‘I wanted to do what I could with my medical and research skills to understand and help address the social and emotional wellbeing issues facing the community.’
It was here that his research project began to take shape.
Dr Spurling, a GP at Inala Indigenous Health Service and senior lecturer at the University of Queensland, was recently granted funds from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to develop his project, ‘Developing, implementing, and testing a co-created health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in primary care’.
Through collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members, this research aims to develop and implement a health check especially tailored for young people in these communities.
Current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Medicare health assessments involving adolescents are constructed for 5–14-year-olds and 15–54-year-olds. Dr Spurling believes more focus is needed on the health of young people within the second age group, and a specific health assessment should be implemented.
‘General practice needs to think more carefully about the issues facing young people as a distinct group,’ he said.
‘Better understanding has to start with asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about important health priorities, and then listening carefully to the responses.’
Following development of the tailored health assessments, Dr Spurling and his team intend to conduct a trial comparing the new health check with the current one available in clinical software, aiming to show better detection and management of social and emotional wellbeing concerns.
‘Once we have listened to community voices on health priorities and co-created the young person’s health assessment, we intend to conduct a pilot randomised trial of the new health assessment looking at outcomes including social and emotional wellbeing, detection of psychological distress and appropriate management and referrals,’ Dr Spurling said.
‘By creating a youth health assessment together with both young people and clinicians, I hope we can have more relevant conversations about health in general practice within both the specific context of the newly developed young person’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessment, and more broadly in general practice.’
The National guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recommends the Social Emotional Wellbeing (SEW) and HEEADSSS screening tools as part of health assessments for young people.
Investigator Grants is the NHMRC’s largest funding scheme, with a 40% allocation from the Medical Research Endowment Account. The scheme’s objective is to support the research of outstanding investigators at all career stages, providing five-year funding security for high-performing researchers through its salary and research support packages. The 2019 Investigator Grants funding totals $365.8 million.
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