Health practitioners must now deliver culturally safe care

Last Updated on 18/01/2023 by National Justice Project

For years, health justice advocates have campaigned for culturally safe health care for First Nations people. Now, as part of the widest-ranging reform to health practitioner regulation since 2010, cultural safety is now enshrined as an objective and guiding principle into the national law governing health practitioners.  

What is the reform?

The amended Health Practitioner Regulation National Law now contains a new objective to: “build the capacity of the Australian health workforce to provide culturally safe health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.” 

The updated regulation also contains a new guiding principle to: “ensure the development of a culturally safe and respectful health workforce that:  

  • is responsive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and their health; and 
  • contributes to the elimination of racism in the provision of health services.” 

What is the impact?

This now means that the professional bodies representing more than 800,000 registered health practitioners across the country must develop policies and protocols to deliver culturally safe health care to First Nations People. 

Because far too often in Australia, First Nations people are denied access to adequate healthcare because of racism or prejudice. This reform is a critical step forward toward ensuring First Nations People receive culturally safe healthcare free from racism for generations to come. 

Which health professionals are affected by the regulations?

The amended Health Practitioner Regulation National Law will apply to the bodies that regulate health practitioners working in: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practice, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, dental, medical, medical radiation, nursing, midwifery, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, paramedicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy, podiatry and psychology. 

Professional bodies representing these practitioners will now be required to develop standards and protocols that will deliver culturally safe healthcare and services to First Nations People. 

What does this mean for strategic litigation and health justice?  

This reform will oblige professional bodies in the healthcare sector to develop standards which incorporate cultural safety into their practice. Once the regulations are in place, if a healthcare professional fails to meet cultural safety standards, the patient may submit a complaint and initiate legal action. 

But the fight for health justice does not end with these reforms. Now, we have to ensure these regulations are implemented by professional bodies. Our CEO and Principal Solicitor, George Newhouse, said:

“Our task now is to ensure that standards are developed by professional bodies to give these reforms bite, so we can hold professionals accountable for failing to provide culturally safe care.” 

How was this reform achieved? 

This reform is the result of the tireless efforts of culturally safe healthcare advocates who have been fighting for this for decades. The National Justice Project has helped build the momentum for health justice by: 

Congratulations to the peak Indigenous organisations which for many years have been working tirelessly to drive these changes. Congratulations to all the members of the Partnership for Justice in Health, who have been at the forefront fighting for a safe and just health system. 

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