Do Indigenous clients with Spinal Cord injury have lifelong access to specialist medical clinics post discharge from inpatient rehabilitation – a retrospective clinical audit

Sheelagh Donohoe, R Marshall

Senior Physiotherapist, Spinal Outreach Rehabilitation Team, South Australian Spinal Cord Injury Service


Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) can result in life-long disabilities which require ongoing care. The South Australian Spinal Cord Injury Service provides inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services to clients from South Australia, Northern Territory and western New South Wales with SCI. Post discharge clients are seen at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre or at the appropriate outreach clinics in Alice Springs, Darwin, Mt Gambier, Whyalla or East Arnhem Land on an ongoing basis. However, given the limited access to care in rural and remote areas, this initiative focussed on ascertaining if Indigenous clients with SCI get access to lifelong specialist services.


A retrospective audit of medical records of SCI clients admitted for rehabilitation over the past 10 years was completed with data from the Medical Records Department providing information on the number of inpatients who identified themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Demographic details, SCI classification, functional measures and attendance at SCI specialist clinics were recorded.


Findings from this audit indicate that Indigenous clients with SCI from rural and remote areas may often be lost to follow up and without such timely access to services resulting in poor health outcomes. While there may be many reasons for these findings, partly it may be due to lack of access to culturally appropriate services.


The inequity in access to health care services between urban and rural and remote areas is stark. This gap is even more between Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients and requires urgent and immediate attention.


Physiotherapist with 25 years working in the area of Spinal Cord Injury rehabilitation, currently with the spinal outreach team to assist with the transition from hospital to home. Areas of interest include helping clients  maximize their enjoyment in life by assisting them to maintain a healthy lifestyle physically and emotionally and by facilitating their return to family roles and community participation.