RACGP backs call for medical transfer of asylum seekers and refugees

Evelyn Lewin

4/12/2018 2:22:46 PM

The RACGP has commended Dr Kerryn Phelps on her bill designed to provide better medical care for people being held on Nauru and Manus Island.

Many Australians are concerned about the healthcare of people being held on Nauru and Manus Island. (Image: Médecins Sans Frontières)
Many Australians are concerned about the healthcare of people being held on Nauru and Manus Island. (Image: Médecins Sans Frontières)

The RACGP supports MP Dr Kerryn Phelps’ call for the immediate transfer of unwell asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Manus Island for onshore medical assessment and treatment.
Dr Phelps’ Urgent Medical Treatment Bill, which allows seriously ill people to be brought to Australia, was introduced to Parliament earlier this week and has the support of Australia’s medical community.  
There have also been nationwide rallies, held on Monday outside Parliament House and the offices of various MPs, in support of the bill.
Dr Kate Walker, GP and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Refugee Health network,  told newsGP that Dr Phelps’ private members bill would ensure unwell asylum seekers be transferred to Australia to be provided with an appropriate level of healthcare.
‘The deteriorating mental and physical health of asylum seekers and refugees [on Nauru and Manus Island] has reached crisis point,’ Dr Walker said.
‘Twelve asylum seekers have died on Nauru and Manus Island in the past five years. This would be identified as a crisis in any other community.’
Consequently, Dr Walker is calling for an end to this crisis.
‘Let’s remove the politics from healthcare,’ she urged.
‘People accessing their human right to seek asylum, as secured by the UN [United Nations], must be able to receive the proper level of healthcare, without the unacceptable levels of political scrutiny that have been occurring.
‘This private members bill will allow for just that, and will put medical decisions back into the hands of treating medical practitioners.’
Dr Walker said the first priority is to remove the most unwell adults and remaining children and their families from Nauru and Manus Island.
‘The trauma experienced [on Nauru and Manus Island] by asylum seekers and refugees is additional to their traumatic refugee experiences,’ she said.

‘Self-harm, witnessed self-harm, chronic suicidal ideation and lack of long-term settlement opportunity impacts every single one of the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
‘These unwell individuals require a therapeutic environment, preferably in Australia, where they can receive the specialist care they need.
‘The Urgent Medical Treatment Bill is a start, but their long-term recovery is dependent on viable long-term settlement options, which must also be found as soon as possible.’

Kerryn-Phelps-(Mick-Tsikas)-hero.jpgDr Kerryn Phelps has introduced a bill designed to facilitate the immediate medical transferral of unwell asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a report this week, Indefinite despair: The tragic mental health consequences of offshore processing on Nauru, which highlights the mental health problems of refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru.
The report, which collected and analysed medical data from the 11 months in which MSF provided healthcare on Nauru before being forced to leave by the Nauruan Government in October, demonstrates ‘extreme mental health suffering’ on the island.
According to the report, of the 208 refugees and asylum seekers MSF treated in Nauru, 63 patients (30%) had attempted suicide, while 124 (60%) had suicidal thoughts.
Meanwhile, almost two-thirds (62%) were diagnosed with moderate or severe depression, 25% with anxiety disorder and 18% with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Twelve patients were diagnosed with the rare psychiatric condition ‘resignation syndrome’.
‘The data shows that the mental health suffering on Nauru is among the worst MSF has ever seen, including in projects providing care for victims of torture,’ the report noted.
MSF is calling for an end to Australia’s offshore processing policy and for the immediate evacuation of all refugee and asylum seekers from Nauru.
Dr Walker said it is time the Australian Government looks to the its own medical community for guidance regarding this health crisis.
‘We want to be able to do our jobs and properly care for these vulnerable men, women and children, just as our Oath of Fellowship affirms,’ she said.
‘We cannot sit back knowing the standard of care received by those seeking asylum in Australia is anything but acceptable, and that medical professionals’ decisions are delayed by administrative processes.’
The RACGP will continue to urge the Government to accept its expert input and support until the health and wellbeing of unwell refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island is satisfactorily addressed.

asylum seeker healthcare Manus Island Nauru Refugee healthcare

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