Accessibility of cancer treatment services for Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory: perspectives of patients and care providers

BMC Health Serv Res. 2021 Jan 28;21(1):95. doi: 10.1186/s12913-021-06066-3.


Background: Poorer cancer outcomes of Indigenous Australians in Australia's Northern Territory (NT) compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts are partially due to diminished access to cancer treatment services (CTS). Accessibility of health care is a multidimensional construct, including physical, logistical, psychosocial and cultural dimensions. While previous research has identified specific areas of reduced access to CTS for Indigenous Australians, the higher burden of cancer borne by Indigenous Australians warrants a more comprehensive understanding of access to CTS in the NT. The purpose of this study was to explore and map the accessibility of CTS for Indigenous Australians in the NT and to identify key access barriers.

Methods: This predominantly qualitative study, complemented by a descriptive quantitative component, explored and mapped the accessibility of one CTS (CTS-NT) that services a large number of Indigenous Australians in the NT. Patient perspectives were obtained via secondary analysis of data from 75 face-to-face interviews with Indigenous Australian adults attending the CTS-NT. Care provider perspectives were obtained via primary analysis of data from 29 face-to-face interviews with care providers and staff working at CTS-NT. Data were analysed to identify issues of accessibility informed by Leveque and colleagues' conceptual framework of access to health care, which comprises five dimensions of accessibility of the health service and the ability of Indigenous patients to interact with these dimensions to generate access. Applied thematic analysis was conducted on the qualitative data and descriptive analysis was conducted on the quantitative data.

Results: The analysis of the patient and care provider reports identified multiple access barriers across all dimensions including: inadequate preparation of Indigenous patients for treatment; delayed and complicated commencement of treatment; dislocation from home; competing priorities; scarcity of Indigenous care providers and staff; lack of culturally-relevant care; challenges associated with language, accommodation, transport and finance; and disjointed and fraught relationships with care providers. These barriers posed significant challenges to Indigenous patients maintaining their engagement with treatment.

Conclusions: This study provides a valuable snapshot of the barriers facing this population across the dimensions of health care access. Urgent action in addressing these issues is required at individual, service and state levels.

Keywords: Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Australians; Access; Cancer; Cancer treatment; Equity; Health services; Patient-centred care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Services, Indigenous*
  • Humans
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Northern Territory / epidemiology
  • Qualitative Research