Ten-year plan to bolster Indigenous doctors, nurses and health workers

By Melissa Coade

March 15, 2022

Ken Wyatt
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

A first-of-its-kind national workforce plan to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) employees working in health aims to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

The objective of the plan, designed with ATSI peak bodies and the community-controlled health sector, is to achieve equal representation of Indigenous people in the health workforce for ‘culturally safe and responsive medical care’. 

The government has committed more than $53 million to implement the plan from the start of this coming financial year until 2025-26. This funding builds on an additional $159.1 million invested in 2021-22 for the ATSI health workforce.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said in a statement the plan was a strong example of the government working with the community to develop a policy approach designed and delivered by those who understand the best solutions for their people.

“Increasing employment, training and leadership opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and embedding Indigenous knowledge and culture in our health services, will help deliver prevention-focused health services that are free of racism,” Wyatt said. 

“It will mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel more comfortable to access health services and experience better outcomes when they do.”

Wyatt also observed that more and improved pathways for Indigenous Australians into careers in health would help embed Indigenous knowledge and culture into national health services, with a focus on prevention-focused services free of racism.

The 2021–2031 national strategic framework and implementation plan aims to lift the number of Indigenous people in the health workforce to 3.43% within 10 years. Currently, Indigenous workers only comprise 1.8% of sector jobs, including doctors, nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, health workers and health practitioners.

Health minister Greg Hunt said the plan offered clear pathways for health students and a strategy to attract, recruit and retain Indigenous Australians for this skilled workforce.

“One of the most important features of this National Workforce Plan is that it was developed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Hunt said.

“[The plan will] increase economic prosperity by having First Nations people in well-paid, secure employment,” he added, noting the targets of the plan were ambitious and achievable.

Wyatt and Hunt launched the plan, which complements the 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap and the refreshed National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, at the weekend. Both ministers thanked their state and territory peers and the Aboriginal community controlled health sector for their commitment to the framework and its implementation. 

The plan will commit all Australian governments to work with ATSI people to grow and strengthen the healthcare workforce with an accessible, ‘consistent, flexible approach’ to employment, training and leadership opportunities. 

Of the $53 million funding allocation, $11.9 million will go to the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, $12.7 million for the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, $18.9 million for Indigenous Allied Health Australia and $9.3 million for the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners. Another $300,000 will support the work of the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF).

NHLF chair Donna Murray said improving Indigenous health outcomes depended on a ‘strong and empowered’ ATSI health workforce and her organisation looked forward to consulting further on how monitoring and evaluation of the plan  would proceed.

“Culture is a protective factor – a positive determinant of health – that strengthens our identity, and our connection to community and Country,” Murray said. 

“We are committed to achieving health equity, and we draw strength from cultural integrity, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing.”


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