RACGP takes aim at racism in healthcare

Doug Hendrie

30/10/2018 4:27:52 PM

Racism is a major barrier to healthcare access.

RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council Chair, Associate Professor Peter O’Mara
RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council Chair, Associate Professor Peter O’Mara

And racism is a trigger for many health risk factors such as substance abuse, distress and mental health conditions and harm to physiological systems.
These are some of the reasons why the RACGP has updated its zero-tolerance position on racism in healthcare to focus more broadly on the effects of institutional racism.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said the revised position statement sent a clear message.
‘The RACGP wants to send the message that racism is unacceptable and harmful, not only for our patients, but also to the doctors, doctors in-training and staff members in our practices and health services,’ he said. 
The RACGP’s updated position statement focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but the statement has wider applicability across Australia’s diverse patients and healthcare professionals.
‘Challenging institutional racism requires a systemic response … Action on institutional racism requires adapting approaches, attitudes and behaviours through up-skilling staff, reviewing policies, procedures and systems,’ the statement reads.
‘The RACGP strongly supports calls from the Close the Gap Steering Committee for a national inquiry into institutional racism.’
Racism also hurts Australia’s diverse health professional workforce.
‘Acts of racism and discrimination negatively impact the development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical workforce. Results from [the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association] 2016 member survey found that more than 60% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical student, doctor and specialist members had experienced racism and/or bullying every day, or at least once a week,’ the statement reads. 
‘The beyondblue National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students similarly found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors reported racism as major source of stress, at nearly 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous counterparts.
The RACGP’s position is:
• a zero tolerance approach to racism
• that every practice provide respectful and culturally appropriate care to all patients
• GPs, registrars, health professionals, practice staff and medical students are supported to address any experience of racism
• that members are aware of, and advocate for patients who are affected by institutional racism
Chair of the RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Associate Professor Peter O’Mara said that racism was a major contributor to poor social and emotional wellbeing.
‘Racism is a major barrier for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in accessing quality and appropriate healthcare,’ Associate Professor O’Mara said.
‘The reality for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is that they are sometimes treated differently in healthcare settings, and as a result, their health outcomes are poorer than for other Australians.’
‘That is why our revised position statement considers the effects of racism on both patients and workforce, as well as the effects of systemic racism through our institutions.’
Associate Professor O’Mara said GPs were well placed to show leadership in addressing racism, discrimination and bias.
‘In challenging racism, practice teams will be able to provide more culturally responsive healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and improve care for all patients,’ he said.
The RACGP is a supporter of the Australian Government’s Racism. It Stops With Me campaign, which encourages people to respond to prejudice and discrimination in their neighbourhoods, schools, universities, clubs, and workplaces.
The RACGP will next year roll out its Practice Experience Program, designed to boost support to often-isolated non-vocationally registered doctors, many of whom are international medical graduates, as they work towards Fellowship.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health racism

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