Development of a new National Women’s Health Policy Consultation Discussion Paper 2009

5.2.3 Barriers to accessing health care access

Page last updated: 20 April 2009

Australian women accounted for 56 per cent of visits to General Practitioners (GPs) in 200607,178 but the groups of women outlined above face significant barriers to accessing health care services and information.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have significantly lower levels of usage of Medicare Benefits and Pharmaceutical Benefits.179 When Australian Government expenditure on programs such as Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services is included, expenditure is still well
    below that for other Australians.180Lower levels of access to primary care partly explains why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are twice as likely as other Australians to present at hospital outpatient/casualty services. state and territory expenditure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is 2.3 times that for other Australians.181
  • Women living in rural and remote areas experience higher hospitalisation rates for some causes of ill health, which may partly be due to later presentation.182 Consultation with rural women has identified access to services as possibly the most significant issue of concern when considering health and well-being in rural areas. Later presentation for treatment amongst rural dwellers, compared to urban dwellers, may result in poorer outcomes.
  • Women from disadvantaged backgrounds report a greater use of doctors and hospital outpatient services, but are less likely to use preventive health services.183
  • Women who are homeless are less likely than other Australians to use preventive and routine
    health care but are higher users of hospital emergency services, which often become the main point of access to health care.184 However, many people who are homeless do not attend any health service when needed.185

Barriers to accessing health care services, including preventive programs, are part of the social and economic conditions, that is the social determinants, of women's lives which can lead to health inequalities, and may include:186, 187, 188, 189, 190
  • shortages of general practitioners, specialist medical services, Aboriginal health workers, and a range of other health services, particularly in rural and remote areas, but also an issue in urban areas;
  • a lack of affordable health care services;
  • a lack of female doctors including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service providers;
  • a lack of awareness of existing services;
  • health services being ill equipped to deal with the complexity of the health, social and emotional wellbeing and cultural needs of women from these groups.

Additionally, in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and immigrant and refugee women:
  • a lack of culturally appropriate services and information;
  • a lack of services and information available in other languages;
  • feelings of shame and embarrassment in the area of reproductive and sexual health;
  • a philosophy and concept of health that is based on a biomedical model which focuses on curative rather than holistic health and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sense of healing.

Of particular relevance to women living in rural and remote areas, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women:
  • distance to health care services and lack of affordable transport, particularly in rural and remote areas, but also an issue in the outskirts of cities;
  • staying away from home to receive treatment often without family support and with increased
    financial costs; and
  • perceived lack of confidentiality in rural and remote areas.

Of particular relevance to women with a disability:
  • inaccessibility of buildings, services and information for people with disabilities; and
  • communication difficulties, for example experienced by women with hearing or intellectual disabilities.