Barriers and facilitators to adherence to Optimal Care Pathways for diagnosis and treatment of cancer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Publication Name

Australian Journal of Primary Health


Background: The Optimal Care Pathways (OCP) are a framework to promote high-quality and integrated cancer care for all Australians, from prevention through to end-of-life-care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience disproportionate cancer incidence and mortality, but little research has addressed whether cancer care for Aboriginal people meets the standards prescribed by the OCPs. This study aims to consider barriers and facilitators to quality cancer care for Aboriginal people. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 health professionals who deliver care to Aboriginal people with cancer in primary care and hospital settings in New South Wales, Australia. Health professionals included Aboriginal Health Workers, nurses, general practitioners, and community workers. Interviews were conducted in 2019-2020 and explored participant perspectives of barriers and facilitators of optimal cancer care, particularly related to prevention, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment for Aboriginal people. Data were qualitatively analysed using framework analysis. Results: In general, participants perceived Aboriginal patients to have good access to preventive care. In terms of early detection and diagnosis, access to primary care, pathology, radiology, and some specialists (e.g. respiratory physicians) was seen as optimal. However, access to hospital-based gastroenterologists for colonoscopy was perceived to be poor due to long wait times. Access to optimal care for cancer treatment was perceived to be hindered due to the lack of bulk-billing for bowel cancer, breast cancer, and cardiothoracic surgery. Other barriers to care identified by participants included unclear referral pathways, poor communication between patient and the treating team, and a lack of timely provision of discharge summaries. Conclusions: Facilitators of optimal care during treatment and survivorship included: the Integrated Team Care and Close the Gap programs, and presence of key health workers to help patients navigate the health system. The major barriers to quality cancer care for Aboriginal people appeared to be to specialist and procedural access, demonstrating that the 'Inverse Care' law applied in reducing access for populations at higher risk of cancer.

Open Access Status

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Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

National Health and Medical Research Council



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