The first that staff and members of the Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance Northern Territory [AMSANT] heard about the Centre for Independent Studies researcher Sara Hudson was that she had written a piece on Aboriginal Health Workers [AHWs] for the ABC’s The Drum, and that she had quoted AMSANT in her research paper, Charlatan training: how Aboriginal Health Workers are being short-changed.

A large number of our members, and others in the broader AHW community — universally astonished and offended by her piece — contacted us about the quotation: was it accurate?

Well, yes and no — but more of that in a moment.

In the short term, AMSANT issued a statement that was circulated throughout the sector, pointing out that while it was supportive of well-informed discussion about AHWs, Hudson had disappointingly never been in touch with AMSANT, and that there were inaccuracies in her pieces.

There was, of course, considerable anger at the insulting tone of her work. In calling AHWs “charlatans” operating in “a charlatan role” provided with “charlatan training” was clearly derogatory. Her libel of the profession was nothing if not deliberate, with the dictionary meaning of charlatan having a specific medical dimension: “someone who professes knowledge or expertise, esp in medicine, that he or she does not have; quack”.

The libel, we are told, is thanks to “(a) woman I met in Western Australia“.

But the real astonishment and offence was not so much that Hudson had not spoken to AMSANT, nor even the inaccuracies in her work, but was at her mendacious use of much of the material she cites.

Let’s start with her citing of AMSANT material, and in particular the organisation’s claim of a 30% decline in the AHW workforce over a decade. Although it’s a figure she uses to benefit her arguments a number of times, she admonishes AMSANT for not providing “numbers to back up its claim”.

Hello? This, the only AMSANT source she quotes, was drawn from a media release — not the usual place where it is expected to footnote references. Nevertheless, a simple call would have shown her this data was drawn from the Allen and Clarke evaluation of the intervention’s primary health programs. In fact, Allen and Clarke used the same data set Hudson herself uses — ironically she could have done the sums herself without, as it will be seen, misquoting others.

But Hudson wants to cite an Aboriginal organisation to back her argument even, if necessary, through misquoting and verballing:

“The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) claims there is a crisis in Aboriginal health work because the number of Aboriginal people electing to become AHWs is falling [emphasis added].”

In fact, AMSANT said nothing of the kind in the media release as can easily be seen. What the media release did say was something that Hudson will not admit, and that is stated quite clearly in that document, quoting AMSANT CEO John Paterson:

The number of Aboriginal Health Workers has dropped by 30 per cent in the last decade.

76% of the profession is over the age of 40, and heading for retirement over the next couple of decades.

These statistics would be regarded as a scandal if it were to occur in mainstream health practices.

It is just as much a scandal in Aboriginal primary health care.

Given that all Australians know that the health outcomes of our people are so appalling, the fact that we are seeing the slow starvation of your profession makes it an even greater shame job.

But that’s because Hudson in fact wants to see the AHW profession abolished altogether: she is entirely happy that the profession is in decline. The fact that a valuable resource in Aboriginal health is being allowed to wither concerns her not at all — she reckons they are charlatans in any case.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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