Third National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategy: 2010–2013

7.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health workers

Page last updated: July 2010

The need for a competent healthcare workforce is outlined in the National Strategic Framework for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce.14 A Blueprint for Action: Pathways into the health workforce for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples15 sets out a joint reform agenda endorsed by all levels of government in Australia, with a five to 10 year plan to build a competent health workforce to address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The need for a comprehensive mapping process of sexual health workers and an increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health workers to provide national consistency is recognised. This workforce, along with the mainstream health workforce, should have ongoing support and professional development opportunities. There is inconsistency across jurisdictions about the roles of sexual health workers, particularly in the clinical and preventive areas. Linking the national registration of sexual health workers (through the COAG national health registration process being developed) in clinical or public health preventive pathways to the new national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers competency pathways is supported.

The recruitment, retention and continuity of designated sexual health worker positions pose different challenges in different settings. For example, designated positions for sexual health may lead to stigmatisation and narrow roles, and positions may lack long-term funding or may be drawn on for other priorities. Tailored approaches are therefore needed to increase the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce in sexual health. These may include both sexual health specialist as well as innovative work roles, including integrating sexual health provision into more generalist roles that are attractive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and acceptable to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Retaining staff through adequate training and education is also seen as an ongoing action item for this strategy. In particular, public health and sexual health epidemiology training are critical aspects missing from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sexual Health Worker training.

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14 Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health 2002, National Strategic Framework for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce.
15 Commonwealth of Australia 2008, A Blueprint for Action: Pathways into the health workforce for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.