Re‐framing the Indigenous kidney health workforce

Jaquelyne T Hughes, Gwendoline Lowah and Janet Kelly
Med J Aust 2019; 211 (1): 6-6.e1. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50210
Published online: 1 July 2019

A new taskforce of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clinicians will address the needs of an Indigenous‐led kidney health workforce in Northern Australia

Many Australian professional clinical societies address kidney health or Indigenous health, but none exist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clinicians dedicated to Indigenous kidney health.

For over three decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities have lived with a disproportionate burden of dialysis‐dependent chronic kidney disease.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with chronic kidney disease face unique challenges accessing care.2 Indigenous renal patients, families and communities are advocating for an increased, stronger and effective Indigenous kidney health workforce.3 The recent Medicare Benefits Schedule item supporting assisted dialysis by a registered nurse, Aboriginal health practitioner or Aboriginal health worker in very remote Australia in partnership with primary health care providers further escalates the need for local Indigenous workforce development.4

On 3 August 2018, ten individuals met and formed the Northern Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Kidney Health Workforce Taskforce (Box). Delegates agreed that the Indigenous kidney health workforce needs our voices to be heard:

Together and individually we have authority to speak as health professionals who are also community members. We are obligated culturally and through family lines to achieve health advancement. We hold and value long term relationship with patients and their communities; culture and family are centred in the strength of our work, and this is valued by patients. We are expert in our own history, our own identity, and in renal clinical care.


The formation of the taskforce addressed an unmet need to support each other and give reference to our key leadership in supporting kidney health in Northern Australia. However, the meeting was opportunistic, as three interstate delegates were visiting for other meetings. Taskforce members recognise our value locally and our relevance at state, territory and national levels,5 and have agreed to develop this forum. We will work towards delivering a Northern Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kidney health conference in 2020, and seek other strategic opportunities aligned with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategic Framework.5

Box – Northern Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Kidney Health Workforce Taskforce

From left to right: Sam Mills, Craig Castillon, Maria Lovison (back row); Gwendoline Lowah, Jaquelyne Hughes, Maria Nickels, Janet Kelly (middle row): Jody Peris, Barbara Beaton (front row); absent from photo, Charmaine Grewal. ◆

Provenance: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Jaquelyne T Hughes1,2
  • Gwendoline Lowah2
  • Janet Kelly3

  • 1 Wellbeing and Preventable Chronic Diseases Division, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, NT
  • 2 Top End Renal Servcies, Royal Darwin Hospital, Darwin, NT
  • 3 University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA



All taskforce members contributed to the values and goals for workforce development and approved the manuscript: Sam Mills, Barbara Beaton, Craig Castillon, Maria Nickels, Jody Peris, Maria Lovison, Gwen Lowah, Jaquelyne Hughes and Charmaine Grewal. The meeting had in‐kind support from health service employers to enable us to meet, and falls within the Lowitja Institute‐funded Catching Some Air project, which had a waiver of ethics to undertake consultation meetings from the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Northern Territory Department of Health and Menzies School of Health Research. Jaquelyne Hughes was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Fellowship (1092576).

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. McDonald S, Russ G. Burden of end‐stage renal disease among indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand. Kidney Int 2003; 63: 123–127.
  • 2. Devitt J, Anderson K, Cunningham J, et al. Difficult conversations: Australian Indigenous patients’ views on kidney transplantation. BMC Nephrol 2017; 18: 310.
  • 3. Hughes J, Dembski L, Kerrigan V, et al. Gathering perspectives – finding solutions for chronic and end stage kidney disease. Indigenous patient voices – 2017 symposium report. Nephrology 2018; 23 (Suppl 1): 5–13.
  • 4. Hughes J, Cass A. Creating a sustainable health care model for assisted dialysis in very remote Australia. RACP e‐Bulletin, Northern Territory – August 2018. (viewed Nov 2018).
  • 5. Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce Strategic Framework 2016–2023. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 2017. (viewed Dec 2018).


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