One more step forward to making community more inclusive

The smoking ceremony conducted by Craig Murphy-Wandin. Picture: EASTERN HEALTH

By Dongyun Kwon

Eastern Health opened a new First Nations cancer clinic at Healesville Hospital on 9 May, aiming at delivering free, culturally safe oncology services to the region’s large Aboriginal population.

Sadly, research shows that cancer disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, with the five-year survival rate among Aboriginal Victorians 12 per cent lower than non-Aboriginal Victorians.

Providing medical oncology services, the clinic is staffed with oncologists specially trained in treating the most common types of cancer for First Nations Australians such as lung, prostate, breast, and bowel cancers.

Eastern Health cancer services director adjunct clinical professor Phillip Parente said the Aboriginal community chose Healesville to have a new First Nations cancer clinic for themselves.

“I knew from the Bureau of Statistics that the largest Aboriginal population within Victoria resides in Healesville, Eastern Health’s catchment area. I spoke to our Aboriginal health care team and made up a time to meet with patients and families who’ve been affected by cancer in Healesville,” he said.

“It was pretty clear to me that the Aboriginal community did not want to go to other Eastern Health hospitals in Box Hill or Maroondah, they wanted to be at Healesville because it’s a culturally safe space for them at Healesville and that’s not replicated at other sites as much.

“Once I got what they wanted and that was really non-negotiable, if a culturally safe cancer clinic for Aboriginals was going to be set up, the location had to be Healesville.”

Delivered by Eastern Health and Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium (MPCCC), the name of the new clinic was chosen, by the Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, Nangnak Warr Bagora.

Operated by Eastern Health, the facility will cater to the medical, social, and emotional well-being of patients, with embedded social workers and an Aboriginal liaison officer working.

“What it [launch of the new First Nations cancer clinic] means is that hopefully, we’re going to close the gap by enabling trust and enabling patients to access health care causing improvement in cancer outcome,” Adj Clinprof Parente said

“We know that vulnerable people in the Aboriginal population in a culturally safe space require extra time to enable trust and explanation, and therefore, these vulnerable patients can be lost with the big clinics.

“But identifying them in a smaller clinic, giving them more time with the oncologist and seeing them with the Aboriginal liaison officer and the social worker together, so you’re seeing them in a multidisciplinary manner in a culturally safe space which enables trust.”

Nangnak Warr Bagora clinic is open to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for free.

“This new First Nations Cancer Clinic in Healesville will help us deliver equitable access to cancer treatment, therapies and clinical trials in a culturally sensitive setting,” Victorian Parliamentary health infrastructure secretary Tim Richardson said.