Aboriginal communities receive Medicare funding for dialysis in remote communities

More people from remote Aboriginal communities will be able to access dialysis closer to home, after the Federal Government agreed to fund a dedicated Medicare item for the treatment. The item was a recommendation of the taskforce charged with reviewing all 5,700 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). Remote dialysis will be added to the MBS in November this year after Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt accepted the recommendation.Professor Alan Cass from Darwin’s Menzies School of Health Research was part of the committee that recommended the change and said its impact would be significant.

“It is so clear the way people have talked about the devastating impact of being forced to relocate from remote communities to urban centres for dialysis,” he said.

“It not only affects the person who has kidney disease but their family and community.

“People have said again and again that they would like us to explore what are the barriers to getting high-quality treatment on community so that they can remain with their family, on country, and being able to fulfil all of their responsibilities as a member of the community.”

The need for better treatment options for Indigenous Australians with kidney disease was highlighted by the death of Yolngu musician Dr G Yunupingu at age 46 last year. His doctor said it appeared Dr G chose to leave dialysis, a gruelling treatment that requires connection by needle to a machine for five hours a day three times a week. The Medicare item will apply to dialysis treatments managed by a registered nurse or Aboriginal health worker in very remote settings.A spokesman for Mr Hunt said it was estimated 470 patients would be affected initially.

A model putting cultural priorities front and centre

Sarah Brown, the CEO of Alice333.png Spring’s Purple House, which uses fundraised money to run a mobile dialysis unit, said the announcement came after years of hard work by Aboriginal communities.

“This whole story is one of Aboriginal people from the remotest part of Australia being determined to do something for their family members who are on dialysis, so they could hold them close, on country,” she said.

“They used their own resources for years to make that happen.”

Ms Brown said communities came up with a whole new model of dialysis care that had cultural priorities front and centre.

“[They] proved it was a howling success and now Medicare has agreed that it’s the best way to provide services for this group of people, and are supporting it.”

The chair of Purple House, senior Pintupi man Bobby West, was part of a group who sold paintings to raise money for the first remote dialysis service in Kintore.

“We know old people some of them pass away in hospital, in Alice Springs,” he said.

“We said we need to change it a little bit, and raised money.

“[Dialysis patients] want to go back and live in community, which is good thing for them so they can visit their country, stay with family, live with family.”


Reference list: Jacqueline Breen. 2018. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-30/remote-communities-dialysis-medicare-number/9711766?site=indigenous&topic=latest

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