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Review Article

Considering Aboriginal palliative care models: the challenges for mainstream services

Submitted: 4 September 2012
Revised: 15 December 2012
Accepted: 24 January 2013
Published: 8 May 2013

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Author(s) : O'Brien AP, Bloomer MJ, McGrath P, Clark K, Martin T, Lock M, Pidcock T, van der Riet P, O'Connor M.

Anthony O'BrienMelissa BloomerPam McGrathMargaret O'Connor

Citation: O'Brien AP, Bloomer MJ, McGrath P, Clark K, Martin T, Lock M, Pidcock T, van der Riet P, O'Connor M.  Considering Aboriginal palliative care models: the challenges for mainstream services. Rural and Remote Health 13: 2339. (Online) 2013. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au

ABSTRACT

This review discusses palliative care and end-of-life models of care for Aboriginal people in the Australian state New South Wales, and considers Aboriginal palliative care needs by reflecting on recent literature and lessons derived from Aboriginal consultation. Aboriginal people in Australia account for a very small proportion of the population, have poorer health outcomes and their culture demonstrates a clear resistance to accessing mainstream health services which are viewed as powerful, isolating and not relevant to their culture, way of life, family and belief systems. Aboriginal people regard their land as spiritual and their culture dictates that an Aboriginal person needs to know their origins, emphasising the value placed on kin and also demonstrating a strong desire to remain within their own country. Currently Aboriginal people tend to not access palliative care services in mainstream facilities; and there is very little data on Aboriginal admissions to palliative care centres. Over the last two decades only two models of palliative care focusing on and developed in Aboriginal communities have been implemented. The seminal contribution to Aboriginal Palliative Care was in the form of a resource kit developed to support palliative care providers to examine their practice for cultural appropriateness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The ‘living model’ coming from this project is adaptive and flexible, enabling implementation in different Aboriginal country as a participative process with community input. The Australian government‘s National Indigenous Palliative Care Needs Study similarly indicated that Australian empirical research on Aboriginal palliative care service provision is in its infancy, and comprehensive data on the rates of Aboriginal access to palliative care services did not exist. What literature does exist is drawn together in an argument for the development and need for culturally specific Aboriginal palliative care models, which are culturally appropriate, locally accessible and delivered in collaboration and partnership with Aboriginal controlled health services.  This is essential because Aboriginal people are a minority cultural group who are disconnected from mainstream health service delivery, and have a sense of cultural isolation when accessing mainstream services. It is preferable that palliative care is delivered in a collaboration between Aboriginal Controlled Health Service and mainstream palliative care services to ensure a dignified end of life for the Aboriginal person. These collaborations and partnerships are fundamental to ensure that a critical mass of Aboriginal clinicians are trained and experienced in end of life care and palliation. Developing palliative care programs within Aboriginal communities and training Aboriginal Health Workers, promoted and developed in partnership with the Aboriginal community, are important strategies to enhance palliative care service provision. Further partnerships should be championed in this collaborative process, acknowledging a need for palliative care models that fit with Aboriginal peoples’ community values, beliefs, cultural/ spiritual rituals, heritage and place.

Key words: Aborigines, Australian, culture, end-of-life care, Indigenous health services, Indigenous population, palliative care, rural palliative care, terminal care, terminally ill.

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