GP’s petition for children on Nauru receives significant response

Amanda Lyons

5/10/2018 1:19:18 PM

Dr Sara Townend wanted to help doctors advocate for the health of children and their families on Nauru, and has found strong support from a number of her colleagues.

Dr Sara Townend wants to provide a way for doctors to express their concerns for children on Nauru and become involved in advocacy.
Dr Sara Townend wants to provide a way for doctors to express their concerns for children on Nauru and become involved in advocacy.

Dr Sara Townend, a Sydney-based GP, is concerned about the plight of children of refugees and asylum seekers detained on Nauru without access to adequate healthcare – and she believes that, within her profession, she isn’t alone.
‘I think the medical community has been deeply concerned about the medical care on Nauru for a long time,’ she told newsGP. ‘More specifically, they have been concerned there are children who are forced by our Government to stay in an indefinite and involuntary way on the island.
‘We are well aware, as a community, of the large body of research which says detention in any of its forms causes trauma which can be long-lasting for these children, and has significant, perhaps even life-long, effects on their mental and physical health.’
Earlier this year, Dr Townend received considerable support when she wrote a petition letter on behalf of a dying refugee on Nauru who was without access to adequate palliative care.
She has since decided, together with her colleague, surgeon Dr Neela Janakiramanan, to write another petition letter to call for the Federal Government to transfer asylum seeker children and their families from Nauru.
More than 3300 doctors and medical students have signed the petition so far.
The two doctors aim to emphasise humanitarian issues and the principles of medical care over politics.
‘When I read the raw data from patient files, I am sitting in medical fact and I can see real people with real medical problems who need medical care that is not being adequately provided,’ Dr Townend said.
‘This issue has seen political agenda overtake medical considerations in making treatment decisions for patients … but I think excellence needs to happen wherever Australia is responsible for people’s health.’
In writing the petition, Dr Townend and Dr Janakiramanan intend to provide practitioners with an outlet to express their concerns in a concrete way.
‘Doctors are busy and care about many urgent areas of health need equally as deserving of their attention,’ Dr Townend explained. ‘[The letter] is not intended as a symbolic gesture. We hope that it will contribute, alongside the call of individual colleges, including the RACGP, to action being taken on this issue.’
The petition is open for the collection of signatures until 15 October, at which point it will be delivered to the Prime Minister’s office in Canberra. Dr Townend has been touched by the response.
‘We ... were hopeful people would sign because we felt it might resonate across the medical community,’ she said.
‘Looking at the number of people that have signed, I am delighted and overwhelmed and grateful that they would consider putting their name and the power of their medical qualifications towards the cause.’

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Julie Grint   6/10/2018 2:23:55 PM

Thankyou for finally taking a stand. I can only hope that an overwhelming number of your colleagues take the trouble to sign your letter. That should send a very powerful message to our politicians. I don’t think either side of politics wants to see GPs surgeries plastered with posters of children and the words #BringthemHere