Monthly Message from the National Coordinator, Prof. Tom Calma AO
It’s been another busy month. The National Best Practice Unit (NBPU) workshops have now been conducted in every state and territory. These have been a valuable tool in bringing together our regional grant recipients, and I saw some great sharing of ideas and collaboration at these workshops.
As most of you will know, funding for the final 12 months (2017-2018) of the Tackling Indigenous Smoking (TIS) program is contingent on a mid-point evaluation. The preliminary findings of the evaluators will be provided to the Minister for Health by April 2017. The Minister will then make a decision about the third year of funding for the program. It is important to clarify that this decision will not depend on the performance of individual TIS grant recipient organisations as grant recipients are at different stages of maturity. The evaluation will be looking at whether the TIS program, as a whole, is operating as expected. This includes tracking grant recipients’ progress in achieving change within their communities, showcasing successes and examples of good practice, and exploring barriers to progress. Smoking rates will not be a focus of the preliminary report, due to the lack of time since the program was redesigned in 2015 to achieve and measure significant declines. This is why the five TIS performance indicators have been developed, to show how organisations are tracking towards reducing smoking (both cessation and non-take-up) within their local context. Your reporting for these indicators is important and crucial, and you must immediately get support from the NBPU if you’re not sure how to report against the indicators.
The TIS program evaluators, the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia (CIRCA), have started consulting TIS grant recipients as part of the evaluation. This includes gathering information through online surveys, phone interviews, and more in-depth consultations through visiting a small number of TIS organisations. CIRCA is also collating the TIS information from organisations’ progress reports (responses for the five TIS performance indicators). I strongly encourage all of you to participate in the evaluation activities when contacted by CIRCA as your inputs will contribute to the mid-point evaluation. As I’ve said above, the results will go to the Minister for Health and your contribution is very important. You can access the evaluation framework on the TIS Portal at: healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/uploads/docs/FINAL%20TIS%20ME%20Framework%2030%20June%202016.pdf.
The Advisory Group for the NBPU met on 18 October to discuss issues affecting the effectiveness of the NBPU over the short, medium and longer term and broader recommendations to support efforts to reduce tobacco smoking in Indigenous communities and by individuals. The meeting was very productive and a number of issues were identified. The group spent most of the day prioritising the most important issues, and identifying potential approaches to rectify or minimise the impact of these issues. I expect that a communique summarising the meeting and its outcomes will be sent out by the NBPU in a week or so.
Many of you may have seen the Tobacco indicators: measuring midpoint progress: reporting under the National Tobacco Strategy 2012-2018 report that was released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) on 29 September 2016 (report available at http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129557116). The way that the AIHW analysed the data - by comparing results for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and expressing change as a ratio - it concluded that the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is widening against a number of the tobacco indicators. Unfortunately I, and many others, felt that this did not paint an accurate picture of what is happening – we know that smoking rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are coming down and progress is being made. But as smoking rates for non-Indigenous Australians are also coming down, in practical terms, achieving a narrowing of the gap in rate ratios is virtually impossible. My colleagues in Canberra have worked with the AIHW since they released the report to discuss this issue. Since then, the AIHW released an addendum to its report that also expresses the data as a rate difference. The addendum notes that between baseline and midpoint, the daily smoking rate for Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults declined, and that the rate difference showed that the gap between the two groups had reduced slightly. Notwithstanding, the overall gap is not big but it is an indication that our target groups are responding positively to the challenge to give up or not take up smoking, which is encouraging. We must keep up our efforts to guide the community and mobilise others to work with us to meet our objectives to address this insidious addiction.