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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework - Summary report

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers

It is the responsibility of the whole health system to provide culturally appropriate health care for Australians from diverse backgrounds. Increasing the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) people in the health workforce is one way to improve access to culturally appropriate health services for First Nations people (AHMAC 2016).

In the 2021 Census of Population and Housing, around 3.1% of First Nations people aged 15 and over (about 16,700) were employed in health-related occupations. Between 2011 and 2021, the number of First Nations people aged 15 and over employed in health-related occupations increased from about 8,800 to about 16,700 people. As a population rate, for First Nations people aged 15 and over, this corresponds to an increase from 255 people working in health-related occupations per 10,000 population, to 309 per 10,000 population.

The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme regulates 16 health professions across Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners, Chinese Medicine Practitioners, Chiropractors, Dental Practitioners, Medical Practitioners, Medical Radiation Practitioners, Nurses, Midwives, Occupational therapists, Optometrists, Osteopaths, Paramedics, Pharmacists, Physiotherapists, Podiatrists, and Psychologists (AHPRA 2022). People may be registered in more than one health profession.

The National Health Workforce Data Set contains data on these registered health professionals. It shows that in 2021 there were 9,274 First Nations people registered as health professionals. This included 792 registered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners (a person who has completed a Certificate IV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care (Practice) and is registered with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia). Relative to population size, First Nations people were employed in registered health professions at a rate that was about one-third that of non-Indigenous Australians – 89 compared with 267 per 10,000 population respectively. Across registered health professions, the largest absolute gap in rates between First Nations people and non-Indigenous Australians was among nurses and midwives (rate difference of 87 per 10,000), followed by medical practitioners (37 per 10,000 population).

In 2021, there were 7,107 enrolments of First Nations students in Vocational Education and Training (VET) health-related courses, 77% of which were for females. First Nations students completed 1,772 VET health-related courses in 2021. The most common courses were in public health (804 course completions) and nursing (229 course completions). There were 304 VET qualifications completed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health worker occupations.

Between 2001 and 2018, the enrolment rates for First Nations students in health-related courses in the higher education sector increased from 27 to 61 per 10,000 population (157% increase, based on linear regression), and completion rates increased from 5 to 11 per 10,000 population (134%). In 2018, the completion rate for First Nations students studying health-related courses was 81% compared with 92% for non-Indigenous students.

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