The Furthering Aboriginal Health & Cancer Services – Working Together Project aims to improve access to and utilisation of cancer services in the Murrumbidgee and Southern NSW Local Health Districts. Unexpected dimensions of the project include recognition of the importance of developing sensitivity to the impact of one’s own white perspective in service delivery and the length of time it takes to build truly respectful and trusting cross-cultural working relationships. Working Together has experienced that it is these aspects that make the difference to long-term change in Aboriginal health outcomes.
In 2008, consultation with Aboriginal communities informed Working Together that “cancer is a death sentence”. For this to change, communities said that cancer services needed to become culturally safe and delivered in the heart of the community (Simpson, Reid, Zubrzycki & Jones, 2011). The work of Thompson, Shahid, Greville, & Bessarab, (2011) reflects similar perspectives.
This consultative process and the literature challenged cancer services to rethink its approach. Working Together embarked on a process of letting go of a dominant white western approach to service delivery. For some services and health professionals this has been an unexpected but generally welcomed aspect of being better able to create culturally safe cancer services.
Through outreach, cancer awareness and Aboriginal cultural awareness training and cancer education delivered within Aboriginal communities, opportunities have arisen and been seized which build up and develop Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal working relationships. An unexpected dimension of the project has been the length it time it takes for these relationships to develop trust, respect and joint and collaborative vision and action.
These initiatives raise Aboriginal health literacy, increase the numbers of Aboriginal women participating in breast screening programs (by 24% in 2009-2010) and improve the chances of Aboriginal people diagnosed with cancer completing treatment through shared Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal support and problem solving.