People of refugee background are affected by distinct health inequalities that arise from their experiences both prior to arrival in Australia and after arrival. These issues are often compounded by the effects of torture and trauma.
Some factors (prior to arrival) that may affect the health of refugee clients:
- interrupted access to health care
- limited access to safe drinking water, inadequate/interrupted access to nutritious food
- limited access to preventative care, medical treatment or health education
- experiences of uncertainty, deprivation, loss of dignity, separation from loved ones and being forced to make impossible decisions.
Even after arrival in Australia, obstacles remain such as:
- high barriers to service access
- being a minority in an unfamiliar culture
- having to negotiate new systems (often with low English proficiency)
- ongoing separation from loved ones, continued bad news from home
- not having vocational skills recognised.
Research and lived experiences indicate that people from refugee backgrounds require specific support to link into local GP clinics, refugee health nurse program providers and other primary care services. Similar approaches are needed to improve access to oral health care, hospitals and specialist services. All services and levels of care should provide a gateway to long term service access and should be carefully tailored to the needs of clients of refugee backgrounds.
GPs, nurses, specialists and other health care providers also need ongoing support to provide appropriate and effective health care to this vulnerable population group.
Things to consider as a health service provider caring for clients of refugee backgrounds
- Clients may need assistance understanding the Australian health care system and which services to approach in which situations
- An accredited interpreter should be engaged for clients who have low English proficiency (interpreters are free for all private medical practitioners and their staff via the TIS National Doctors’ Priority Line)
- People of refugee background may have experienced torture or high levels of trauma prior to arrival, this has impacts on settlement and may impact on your consultation
- Clients of refugee backgrounds may be experiencing health concerns that you rarely see in your practice
- Referral to bulk-billed services is highly recommended
- Asylum seekers may have different needs from refugees, as asylum seekers may have experienced prolonged detention in Australia and their access to Medicare and to other services can change over the course of their application for protection
- There are numerous health services in Victoria that offer specialised care for refugee background clients – including Refugee Health Nurses, Refugee Health Fellows and numerous outreach clinics at community health centres and in hospitals. To find a service near you, visit the Refer page of our website.
For a comprehensive overview of the social and clinical aspects of refugee health download Promoting Refugee Health: A guide for doctors, nurses and other health care providers caring for people from refugee backgrounds and Caring for Refugee Patients in General Practice: A desk-top guide.