The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) of Australia is calling for the boosting of health services in remote communities after revealing that one in three of its aeromedical retrievals are for Indigenous patients, 14 per cent of them preschoolers.
New research shows about 17.9 per cent of retrievals from remote Indigenous communities relate to injury and poisoning, 14.4 per cent strokes and heart attacks, and 12.8 per cent respiratory system diseases.
One in every five aeromedical retrievals of Indigenous people suffering respiratory illness was for a child under the age of one. About 40 per cent of patients were “below school age”.
Chief executive officer of the RFDS Martin Laverty said Indigenous children were over-represented in the data.“Preventable or manageable illnesses such as pneumonia, asthma and croup are leaving kids so ill the only option is to fly them to hospital,” he said.
The research outlines illness and injury rates for a sample of 17,606 patients flown from remote communities to hospitals over a three-year period.
“An aeromedical retrieval in response to a chronic illness only happens when a patient has become very unwell. The high demand for patients to be flown with chronic illness shows illness prevention is key to achieving Close the Gap targets,” Mr Laverty said.
The research has also prompted the RFDS to recommend development of “new cultural credentials” for mainstream health services to meet Indigenous healthcare needs.
Meanwhile, Mr Laverty has told the National Press Club in Canberra that the medical sector is numb to the “stunning difference in life expectancy and quality of life between city and bush”.
The University of New England PhD candidate has called for the Commonwealth’s Rural Health Commission to be “set up to succeed”. “The commissioner will be tasked to enhance training and opportunities for doctors to become more skilled rural generalists, but the success of the commissioner should also be judged on better health outcomes for people in the bush,” Mr Laverty said.