Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) patients are being urged to take care of their health and contact their GP for any issues following concerns some may be avoiding medical care due to fear of the COVID-19 virus.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Consumer Health Forum of Australia (CHF), and Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) are urging patients from CALD communities not to neglect their health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes after Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire in Victoria were placed under tightening restrictions due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. There are further pockets of community transmission in other urban and regional areas in the eastern states, particularly Victoria and New South Wales.
RACGP spokesperson Dr Kate Walker said even in these difficult times it was important for patients to see their GP for any health concerns including mental health concerns.
“We are very concerned for CALD patients who may be avoiding important medical appointments due to fear of COVID-19. There are higher rates of chronic disease and other comorbidities among some CALD communities.
“The last thing we want to see is an increase in health issues due to patients delaying care – MBS data showed a decrease of more than one million consultations in May, compared to the same time last year.
“GPs have told us their CALD patients are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. We are hearing of vulnerable patients who’ve lost work and are under a great deal of stress, GPs are seeing increased mental health symptoms, isolation and loneliness.
“CALD communities already face barriers to healthcare, so it’s critical that we get the message to these patients about the importance of maintaining care during the pandemic – as well as public health messages for COVID-19.
“I want to reassure all patients that it remains safe to visit your GP. Practices have strict infection prevention measures in place. You can also access a GP remotely with telehealth consultations and free interpreter services. So if you need an appointment, please don’t delay.
“We’ve seen in the United Kingdom and the United States, African American and CALD communities have high rates of COVID-19 and higher rates of death. The current outbreaks in Melbourne have been in areas with high numbers of CALD communities. It is essential that CALD communities across Australia are able to access COVID-19 health advice in their language, including information about testing, how to self-isolate, quarantine and contact tracing. CALD patients with COVID-19 would also benefit from remote care and support from their communities.
“Asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants face greater barriers to care and may be more mistrustful of government and reluctant to get tested. We are concerned there is a lack of messaging about testing options for those without a Medicare card.”
FECCA Chairperson Mary Patetsos said more needed to be done to address the barriers CALD communities face to healthcare.
“We need to recognise the barriers CALD communities face to healthcare including language and cultural barriers, which may affect health literacy and outcomes. We need equity in services to ensure those communities are not disadvantaged.
“GPs have a role to play here – we encourage GPs to be proactive and reach out to their CALD patients who may need reassurance that it is safe and important to keep their regular health checks.
“We urge health authorities to consult and collaborate with CALD consumer peak bodies, such as FECCA, to address the challenges and needs of CALD Australians when it comes to their health care.”
CHF CEO Leanne Wells said: “If our national health system is to provide care for those who most need it, then we need greater focus on reaching CALD people who too often miss out on care because barriers such as language, bad past experiences, location and opening times and transport. To fail to do so risks further widening health inequalities between CALD communities and others.”