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Towards better refugee health

Prompted by a report that Wentworth Healthcare commissioned with Western Sydney University, I heard first-hand from a local Syrian medical specialist who came to Australia as a refugee about the difficulties refugees face. 

The report, “Addressing the Needs of Syrian and Iraqi Refugees in the Nepean Blue Mountains Region” was the result of research to identify the health needs and priorities of the Syrian and Iraqi communities and assess them against existing services in the region. 

It found that Iraqi and Syrian refugees have difficulties in accessing healthcare due to language barriers, the lack of interpreters, unfamiliarity with the health system, distrust of government services, transportation problems and long waiting times. 

Against a backdrop of other priorities when they arrive in Australia such as employment, settling into the community and taking care of their families, refugees did not regard health as a priority.

The research revealed that refugees ‘normalised mental health issues’ and are significantly influenced by their beliefs concerning health, religious and other non-pharmacologic and alternate healing practices and the cultural stigma of mental health. 

There is a small but growing number of refugees and asylum seekers that have chosen to settle in our region so this research is instrumental in helping NBMPHN to plan and build a primary healthcare system that ensures all people can access can access the right care, in the right place at the right time. 

We have recently rolled out an online training program produced by SBS for Practice Staff. The program is designed to train people to better manage cultural diversity and will assist with understanding of the Syrian and Iraqi culture, among others, and build skills that help to engage people from diverse backgrounds. The Cultural Competence training is free to Practices Nurses in our region and offers 8 CPD points accredited by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).


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Lizz Reay's avatar
Lizz Reay is the CEO of Wentworth Healthcare, provider of the Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network. Previously Deputy CEO of Nepean Blue Mountains Medicare Local & Nepean Division of General Practice, she has an extensive background in public health.
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