Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Health Care Provider and Consumer Understandings of Cultural Safety and Cultural Competency in Health Care: An Australian Study

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Health Care Provider and Consumer Understandings of Cultural Safety and Cultural Competency in Health Care: An Australian Study

Article excerpt

Abstract: There is increasing recognition in Australia that racial and ethnic minority groups experience significant disparities in health and health care compared with the average population and that the Australian health care system needs to be more responsive to the health and care needs of these groups. The paper presents the findings of a year long study that explored what providers and recipients of health care know and understand about the nature and implications of providing culturally safe and competent health care to minority racial and ethnic groups in Victoria, Australia. Analysis of the data obtained from interviewing 145 participants recruited from over 17 different organizational sites revealed a paucity of knowledge and understanding of this issue and the need for a new approach to redress the status quo.

Key Words: Cultural Safety, Cultural Competency, Minorities, Health Outcomes, Australia.

It is being increasingly recognized internationally that the nealth status of racial and ethnic minority groups (including immigrants and refugees) is often worse than that of the average population of the country they are living in. The health status of the world's Indigenous Peoples is also known to be well below that of the average population of their countries, with life expectancy rates at birth being 10 to 20 years less than for the overall population, and infant mortality rates being 1.5 to 3 times greater than the national average (International Council of Nurses, 2003). Although the reasons for the disparities in health among minority racial, ethno-cultural and indigenous groups are complex, it is widely acknowledged that a key variable contributing to this situation is that these groups are 'not receiving the same level of health care in diagnosis, treatment and preventative services that the average population receives' and that health care services 'are not responsive enough to their specific needs' (Novak-Zezula, 2005).

Australia has long been recognized as being a multicultural society (Commonwealth of Australia, 1999). Its population is comprised of people from over 200 different countries, practising over 116 religions, and speaking over 180 languages with over 16% of speaking languages other than English at home. Add to this the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, and the multicultural nature of Australian society is underscored. These demographics indicate that Australia is not just a 'multicultural society', but also one of the most culturally diverse societies in the world.

Consistent with overseas trends, there has been increasing recognition in Australia that, despite being responsible for the provision of services to people and communities of diverse racial, ethno-cultural and language backgrounds, and despite over 30 years of multicultural policies and programs, Australia's health care system is not as responsive as it should be to the needs of the culturally diverse minority populations it serves (Allotey, Manderson & Reidpath, 2002; Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health 2003; Murray & Skull, 2005; Proctor, 2004). Of particular concern to those in the field is that people of minority racial, ethno-cultural and language backgrounds in Australia are generally 'underserved' by local health care and other social services, experience unequal burdens of disease, confront cultural and language barriers to accessing appropriate health care, and receive a lower level and quality of care when they do access health care services compared to the average population (Murray & Skull, 2005; Correa-Velez, Gifford, & Bice, 2005; National Multicultural Mental Health Policy Steering Group, 2004; Proctor, 2004; Thomson, Burns, Burrow, & Kirov, 2004; Allotey, 2003; Manderson & Allotey, 2003; Allotey, Manderson & Reidpath, 2002; Stolk, Ziguras, Saunders, Garlick, Stuart, & Coffey, 1998). In response to these concerns, those at the forefront of delivering services to Australia's multicultural population are demanding that immediate action be taken to improve the overall responsiveness of the Australian health care system to the health and care needs of minority racial, ethno-cultural groups and ipso facto reduce the disparities in health and quality care that these groups are known to experience. …

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