Doctors pen open letter to Federal Government: Let us help on Manus Island

Paul Hayes

27/11/2017 12:24:59 PM

Senior Australian doctors from multiple specialties – including general practice – have signed an open letter to the Federal Government offering to fly to Manus Island and provide free healthcare for asylum seekers and refugees.

The letter’s signatories believe ‘there should be an immediate, independent review of the health status of those still on Manus’. Photo supplied.
The letter’s signatories believe ‘there should be an immediate, independent review of the health status of those still on Manus’. Photo supplied.

As the situation on Manus Island continues to deteriorate, with detainees being forcibly removed from the Manus Island detention centre to new camps by Papua New Guinea authorities, the clinicians have written the letter as ‘strong advocates of “health for all” without discrimination’.
‘We believe the humanitarian issues take precedence over politics. This is a matter beyond immigration and border control, but one that affects the health of people and others’ perceptions of our great nation,’ they wrote in the letter.
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel, as well as past presidents Dr Frank R Jones and Dr Liz Marles, are among the 18 signatories.
‘The letter is important to show the concern that the medical profession, across multiple specialties, expresses about the psychological and physical health of refugees seeking asylum seekers, and to make an offer of pro bono assessment of refugee health,’ Dr Marles told newsGP.
‘This is not a political campaign and we are not commenting on policy. Our concern is humanitarian and it is part of our responsibility as medical practitioners to advocate and care for the vulnerable.’
An open letter to the Australian Parliament (government and opposition) regarding the health of Asylum Seekers and Refugees on Manus Island
We are senior Australian clinicians who write in our individual capacity to express our concerns about the ongoing health and wellbeing of the former detainees still based on Manus Island and now in alternative accommodation. They, like all human beings, have a universal right – enshrined in the United Nations charter – to health and wellbeing. Their political and citizenship status should not affect this right. All politicians regardless of their political party should respect the human right to health and themselves be strong advocates of ‘health for all’ without discrimination.

  • We are deeply concerned about the ongoing refugees’ physical and mental health.
  • There are reports of poor hygiene and sanitation, limited supply of electricity and inadequate living conditions. All of these exacerbate disease and ill health.
  • We are not aware of accurate information on the health status of the refugees since the ‘official’ closure of the Manus Island Australian-governed facility.
  • We are concerned about the harm and the adverse publicity to the international reputation of Australia, its government and its people.
 Urgent action is required:
  • We believe there should be an immediate, independent review of the health status of those still on Manus.
  • We are prepared both to participate in this and to nominate appropriate, independent and credible clinicians.
  • We are of the opinion such a review should ideally be made in conjunction with senior Papua New Guinean clinicians who would take the responsibility for informing their government.
 We are willing to conduct this review pro-bono, arranging the appropriate mix of clinical specialties. We would require the Australian government to negotiate the diplomatic permissions and officially sanction travel to and within PNG, as well as agree to clinical assessment of willing individuals.
We believe the humanitarian issues take precedence over politics. This is a matter beyond immigration and border control, but one that affects the health of people and others’ perceptions of our great nation.
Yours sincerely and with great concern at the current situation,
Professor David A Watters OBE ChM FRCSEd FRACS
Alfred Deakin Professor of Surgery, Deakin University
Past President Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Laureate Professor Nicholas J. Talley MD, PhD, FRACP, FAFPHM, FAHMS
University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia
Past President Royal Australasian College of Physicians
Past Chair Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges
Mr Philip Truskett AM FRACS
Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney
Past President Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Specialist Anaesthetist and Specialist Pain Medicine Physician
Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth WA
Past President of Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists
Professor Patrick McGory AO FRCP FRANZCP
Executive Director Orygen
Professor Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne
President, International Association for Youth Mental Health
NHMRC Principal Research Fellow
President, Schizophrenia International Research Society
Professor David Fletcher FRACS
Director of Surgery, Fiona Stanley Hospital
Professor of Surgery, University of Western Australia
Professor Kingsley Faulkner AM Cit WA MB BS FRACS MDA (Hons)
School of Medicine, Fremantle,
University of Notre Dame Australia
Past President, Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Dr Liz Marles FRACGP
Past President RACGP
Professor Bastian M. Seidel PhD, MACHI, MRCGP, FRACGP
Current President, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
Professor Bala Venkatesh, MBBS, MD (Int.Med), FRCA, FFARCSI, MD(UK), FCICM
Past President, College of Intensive Care Medicine (ANZ)
Adjunct Associate Professor Frank R Jones FRACGP
Immediate Past President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
A/Prof Christopher Milross MD FRANZCR FRACMA FAICD
Past President Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists
Dr Mukesh Haikerwal AO RACGP
Professor School of Medicine Flinders University, Adelaide
Past President AMA
Past President AMA VIC
Professor Malcolm Hopwood MPM MD FRANZCP
Professor of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne
Past President Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
A/Professor Michael Hollands FRACS
Westmead Hospital, Sydney
Past President Royal Australasian College Surgeons
Past Chair Council of Presidents of Medical Colleges
Immediate Past President Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators
Dr Genevieve Goulding FRANZCA
Senior staff specialist anaesthetist, Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital
Immediate Past President, Australian & New Zealand College of Anaesthetists
Professor Lucie Walters
Professor Rural Postgraduate Medical Education, Flinders Rural Health South Australia
Immediate Past President Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine

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Dr Juana Sanchez De Evans   28/11/2017 11:32:49 AM

Agree fully and happy to support the cause

Christine Ahern   28/11/2017 12:31:51 PM

Strong message and has my full support. Well done and thank you especially to the leaders in general practice who have signed.

Dr Sujata Guha   28/11/2017 1:32:16 PM

Good effort from senior doctors to help and care vulnerable group of people. Full support to this initiative.

Dr Gippsland VIC GP   28/11/2017 2:07:11 PM

I would appreciate if you can stopover in Gippsland VIC on your way to help my patient this morning. 24yr old chronic psychosis /borderline personality, dependence on alcohol and ice. CAT team not interested as not acute suicidal, Earliest appointment for a 291 assessment is next Feb 18.
I beg you please help your fellow AUSTRALIAN first. Thanks

Sandra Skinner   28/11/2017 2:28:56 PM

Politically correct tokenism ignoring reality. I despair that truth and logic have traded for brownie points with national purse holders.

Dr Gale Bearman   28/11/2017 3:30:53 PM

Well done. It goes without saying that the mental health of these refugees will need treatment if they are ever to have lives worth living anywhere on the planet; our country has done them great harm. As for their physical health we have not even been permitted to find out their status.

Dr Neil Hearnden   28/11/2017 5:58:54 PM

I, for one, do not support action on the basis of poor facts. These people are not Australian Citizens. They are not refugees. They are free to gain work where available in Manus. There is still considerable financial support being given to the PNG Govt to house and feed them. They have had the benefit of health care during the whole time of their protective "internment" They are really seeking anyway possible to gain access to Australian soil. There is much more need for this concerted health care effort to be directed to our own indigenous (aboriginal and torres strait islander ) people. Please no bleeding hearts and response to media beatups.

Dr Charlene Kembo   28/11/2017 6:23:32 PM

Hats off for this bold and compassionate initiative! These endevours are greatly appreciated. While it is true that charity begins at home, I find no reason to fault the sterling efforts and advocacy roles that continue to prevail for the Australian population as well.

Champa Somaratna   28/11/2017 9:07:22 PM

Happy to support

Rosa OKane   29/11/2017 3:42:04 PM

Thankyou to the leaders in the medical field big,brave and fair enough to send this important message which I fully support

Charles McDonald   1/12/2017 9:02:18 PM

Irrespective of the politics here, I for one wish to express my abhorrence of how we, fortunate enough to be first-world Australians, have chosen to treat our less lucky fellow human beings.
What would you do, if you were one of them?
Would you just accept your dismal fate?

Mai Maddisson   3/12/2017 3:55:04 PM

The tragedy of all this is the detached attitude of many factions over the years. Australia has two large cohorts of past refugees - the post WW II contingent from Europe in the late 1940s and the Vietnam Conflict contingent circa 1870s. Most have very effectively and productively assimilated into Australia into many different and relevant vocations. They have had decades to reflect on what was done well during their journeys and what with hind sight was to prove for short term gain only.
Among them has been a potential 'think tank' which had the experiential resources to help prioritise and perhaps foresee unexpected difficulties. Offers have been made to become involved in the resolution of such conundrums: The predictable response "What would you know: You don't have the right coloured printed wall paper".
As a distant spectator, not by choice, I would suggest that given that few of the personae engaged speak the 'language of life' of the people on the various refugee/asylum seeker precincts that the intentions are definitely good, but perhaps the methodology may not always be optimal. Priorities look different in differing shoes.
However one does need to admire their tenacity to effect change.

Dr Jane Morgan   12/12/2017 3:14:14 PM

Agree fully and gave ongoing concerns these men will be forgotten and languish in PNG for the terms of their natural lives!!
Can we keep the pressure on the Govt to set them free