Current standards of care on Nauru are unacceptable: RACGP

Amanda Lyons

17/10/2018 3:58:24 PM

The RACGP has expressed concerns about the health of refugee and asylum seeker children as another senior doctor contracted by the Australian Federal Government is deported from Nauru.

The RACGP is concerned that the current standards of healthcare experienced by refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are not acceptable. (Image: Médecins Sans Frontières)
The RACGP is concerned that the current standards of healthcare experienced by refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are not acceptable. (Image: Médecins Sans Frontières)

Health services provided to refugees and asylum seekers detained on Nauru have been in turmoil over the past several months, with the latest upheaval resulting in the arrest and deportation of Australia’s senior medical officer, Dr Nicole Montana, from the island.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon is concerned about the impact these staffing upheavals will have on detainees.
‘We are extremely worried about the health and safety of these vulnerable people,’ he told newsGP.
‘The healthcare of asylum seekers and refugees in detention, whether offshore, onshore or community detention, should be commensurate with Australian standards of health.
‘As medical practitioners, we cannot sit back knowing the care received by refugees and asylum seekers is anything but acceptable.
‘We would be happy to work with the Federal Government to see standards set in place, similar to when we had detention centres onshore.’
The deportation of Dr Montana follows last week’s ejection of mental health professionals from international humanitarian and medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) from Nauru by the island’s government.
MSF later described the situation of refugees and asylum seekers detained on the island in stark terms, and recommended the Federal Government abandon its policy of offshore detention.
‘Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their mental health and wellbeing,’ MSF Australia Executive Director Paul McPhun told Australian media during a press conference last week.
‘Separating families, holding men, women and children on a remote island indefinitely with no hope of protection except in the case of a medical emergency is cruel and inhumane.’
In response, the Nauruan Government accused MSF of ‘conspiring’ against it and engaging in political activism.
Dr Nick Martin, a GP who has previously worked as a senior medical officer on Nauru, told newsGP he is not surprised by the Nauru Government’s latest decision and that he agrees with MSF about the best solution.
‘The plight of the refugee and asylum seeker children and families on Nauru is absolutely soul-destroying,’ he said. ‘The situation was dire when I was there, and a year on it is even worse –despite an increasing number of cases being brought before the High Court to get these people the treatment they require.
‘Any news from the Australian Government that they are increasing the staffing of IHMS [International Health and Medical Services, contractor of medical staff for Australia] on Nauru is just like putting sticking plaster on a major trauma victim.
‘These people are way beyond having yet another mental health care nurse or psychologist chat to them, they need to be removed from the island.’
There has been strong advocacy from many medical students and professionals to transfer asylum seeker and refugee children and their families from Nauru, including a petition letter co-written by GP Dr Sara Townend and hand-delivered to the Prime Minister’s Office containing more than 5500 signatures.
These calls have also been supported by some federal Liberal MPs, which has led Prime Minister Scott Morrison to state he is willing to consider transferral of the children and their families to New Zealand as long as it is not possible for them to enter Australia afterwards.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement that Dr Montana’s arrest was an issue between the Nauru Government and the IHMS. The
IHMS has issued its own statement explaining that a replacement Senior Medical Officer was already present on the island and that the situation would result in no impact of health services provided to transferees.
Dr Martin reiterated, however, that in his point of view, there is only one acceptable solution.
‘After five years of indefinite detention, no treatment is going to be a substitute for getting [the children] to a place of safety,’ he said.
‘And right now, on Nauru, it is not safe for them.’

Nauru refugee and asylum seeker health

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