ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Urgent need to improve access to health services for the ACT's most disadvantaged

1 February 2022

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has today called on the ACT and federal governments to do more to reduce ongoing health inequalities experienced by people facing disadvantage in the ACT.

The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (RoGS) released today highlighted relatively low availability of GPs, low bulk billing rates, and high out-of-pocket expenses as significant barriers to accessing primary and mental health services for people on low incomes in the ACT. The report showed:

  • In 2020-21, the ACT had the second highest rate of people delaying or not seeing GPs due to cost at 4.7%, compared to the national rate of 2.4%. This figure was, however, the lowest rate recorded in the ACT during the last nine years
  • In 2020-21, the ACT had the second lowest rate of specialist attendances that were bulk billed at 29.8%, compared to 35.1% nationally
  • In 2020-21, the ACT had the second highest average patient out-of-pocket costs for non-referred attendances at $47 (vs $41 nationally); the highest average out-of-pocket costs for specialist attendances at $112 (vs $93 nationally); and the highest average out-of-pocket costs for allied health attendances at $75 (vs $55 nationally)
  • In 2020-22, the ACT had the highest rate of people delaying filling or not filling prescription due to cost at 6.0%, compared to 4.4% nationally.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell stated: “Despite the ACT being viewed as a relatively well-off jurisdiction, nearly one in ten Canberrans live in low-income households. They are among Australia’s most disadvantaged and must be protected by the safety net of an adequate healthcare system.

“In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is deeply concerning that individuals and families in the ACT are delaying visits to the GP or filling medical prescriptions due to cost. No one should have to make a choice between putting food on the table and accessing medical care.

The RoGS data also highlighted significant inequity in health outcomes for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT, including:

  • In 2019, 4.4% of babies born in the ACT were of low birth weight. The proportion with low birth weight born to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mothers was 9.6% compared to 4.3% for non-Indigenous mothers
  • In 2017-19, the rate of overweight or obesity for adults was higher for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people (75%) than for non-Indigenous people (64%), and also for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children (42%) than for non-Indigenous children (26%)
  • In 2017-19, 23% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people were daily smokers compared to 10% of non-Indigenous people.

Gulanga Program Manager, Rachelle Kelly-Church, stated: “If we are to take the Close the Gap Campaign seriously, then urgent action is required to improve Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health outcomes, throughout the lifecycle from pregnancy and birth onwards.

“To provide a strengths-based system of early supports, such as prevention campaigns as well as ongoing treatment, there needs to be a broad range of culturally safe and appropriate services for Aboriginal people with chronic and complex health needs. To achieve this, both the federal and ACT governments need to increase investment in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations.”

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617.