Racism in Australia’s Healthcare System

On 28 June 2022, in a Guardian article titled Deadly combination’: unpicking race’s role in three separate tragedies, reporters Joe Hinchliffe and Jane Lee unpack the role played by race and cultural bias in the deaths of three children under hospital supervision.

In these cases several doctors have noted that all three occurred to families from the Indian subcontinent and spoke more broadly of a “deadly combination” of factors, including ethnicity and culture, that is being magnified in a healthcare system buckling under the immense pressure of the pandemic.

In the same article Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan, says systemic racism within the health sector is undermining access to services, diagnoses, treatment and care. 

Individual healthcare workers “may be well intentioned”, Mr Tan says, but “unconscious bias or a lack of cultural understanding and sensitivity” means people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are not always provided with appropriate care.

Venkata Chandra Lanka is one the parents quoted in the article. Venkata Chandra Lanka says “there is a different kind of racism in the picture here, where no one says anything to you but your concerns are ignored.”

Racism in Western Sydney public hospitals  

Between 2018 and 2022, within Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD), similar concerns about being ignored, not being listened to and slow staff responses to rapid clinical deterioration have been repeatedly expressed following the death of 27 year of Sydney Dr. Malay Rana at Westmead Hospital in April 2015 , the death of 3 year old Sydney girl Caitlin Cruz at Westmead Hospital in October 2016 and the death of 21 year old Sydney woman Dua following a discharge from Blacktown Hospital in February this year .

Disturbingly, all of these deaths occurred in patients from a multicultural background.

Further, in the past decade, there have been several reports highlighting similar systemic concerns with poor communication, poor patient experiences, slow responses to rapidly deteriorating patients, poor standards of care and multiple avoidable deaths in hospitals within WSLHD.

In November 2012, an article in Canberra Times featured DAMNING internal reports into 85 deaths at WSLHD Hospitals over two years that had revealed that at least 49 of the patients did not receive adequate care. The reports identified poor communication, slow responses to rapidly deteriorating patients and poor standards of care as significant contributors to avoid deaths of these patients.

In May 2021, Bureau of Health Information figures released in a Sydney Morning Herald article showed that hospital emergency departments in Sydney’s west and south-west scored the lowest in NSW on a patient satisfaction survey, with Blacktown, Westmead and Liverpool hospitals among the under performers.

Community concerns about care in  Western Sydney hospitals 

Western Sydney is home to a large multicultural community. This disturbing pattern of being ignored, not being listened to, poor patient experiences, poor care and multiple avoidable deaths only reflect Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan concerns about systemic racism within the health sector undermining access to timely services, diagnoses, treatment.

On 12 October 2022, Dr Rateb Jneid, President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), wrote to WSLHD Community and Consumer Partnerships. (WSLHD – CCP) to highlight increasing community concerns about the quality and safety of healthcare in the district.

In his letter, Dr Jneid noted that AFIC has been privy to some troubling stories from consumers and carers about being inappropriately discharged home with life threatening conditions, carers not being heard, their concerns being disregarded and being verbally and physically abused by staff at WSLHD. AFIC awaits a response from WSLHD – CCP.

Western Sydney  residents continue to be concerned about  systemic racism within hospitals in Western Sydney undermining their timely access to timely services, diagnoses, treatment.

In light of the impending elections, AMUST will continue to feature a series of articles with interviews with political, community leaders and stakeholders within Western Sydney healthcare sector. These articles will seek to highlight the challenges faced by residents of Western Sydney in accessing high quality healthcare. 

They will also explore potential solution to address them.