Peak medical bodies urge political leaders to improve healthcare for vulnerable asylum seekers

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Australian doctors from multiple specialities have jointly written to Australia’s immigration minister and health ministers emphasising their rising concern for the health and wellbeing of the male asylum seekers recently transferred to Papua New Guinea.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have urged Federal Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton MP, Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt MP, and Assistant Minister for Health David Gillespie MP, to consider the physical and mental health of the men transferred to PNG and ensure they have access to the healthcare they need.

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel reiterated the RACGP position on healthcare for refugees and asylum seekers, saying the level of care available to these men was a serious concern to Australian doctors.

"We are extremely worried about the health and safety of these vulnerable people," Dr Seidel said.

"As medical practitioners, we cannot sit back knowing the standard of care received by those seeking asylum in Australia is anything but acceptable.

"Many of the men who have recently been transferred from Manus Island to PNG will be experiencing significant trauma, so our government must ensure they receive immediate care to improve their health and wellbeing.

"This is not about politics. This is about the health and safety of a group of very helpless people."

RANZCP President Dr Kym Jenkins said she was deeply concerned that the transfer from one detention centre to another would place a severe toll on the already precarious mental health of the asylum seekers and refugees.

"Asylum seekers and refugees are among the most vulnerable and marginalised people, many having experienced torture, trauma and other catastrophic events," she said.

"It is crucial that their psychiatric and other health needs are urgently addressed and that they receive the expert trauma-informed care they require," Dr Jenkins said.

"Prolonged or indefinite detention itself is known to contribute to adverse mental health and asylum seekers and refugees continue to have inadequate access to the necessary supports and services they require in offshore detention."

RACP President Dr Catherine Yelland said doctors are deeply concerned by reports about the deteriorating health of detainees.

"The Australian Government must ensure greater transparency and communication around the situation on Manus Island so the medical community knows that authorities are responding to reports of ill health."

Dr Yelland said access to healthcare was a basic human right and the Australian Government must provide a firm guarantee that asylum-seekers are getting the care they need.

"These are vulnerable people. Many asylum-seekers are already suffering physical and mental illness due to the reasons they had for leaving their homeland, and these issues are only exacerbated by mandatory detention.

"Australia has a moral obligation to ensure asylum-seekers are medically assessed, treated promptly and offered a standard of care that they would receive in any Australian hospital or community."

The RACGP, RACP and RANZCP are calling for:

  • Improved transparency of information on the living conditions and access to healthcare services.
  • Expedited action to ensure suitable and secure living conditions with adequate water, power and sanitation. 
  • Urgent action to ensure Lorengau General Hospital is sufficiently resourced to meet the needs of refugees and asylum seekers for emergency and specialised health care. 
  • Appropriate, rapid transfer processes for refugees and asylum seekers who are too ill to be managed on Manus Island.
  • Assurance that refugees and asylum seekers will continue to be provided with their medications as needed.
  • Urgent establishment of a fully staffed mental health service with enhanced primary care, psychological treatment, torture and trauma counselling, out-reach and emergency service first responder support capabilities.
  • Regular independent assessment of the physical and mental health of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea by suitably qualified personnel.
  • The establishment of a trusted intermediary to facilitate engagement between asylum seekers with the host community and relevant authorities.

The RACGP, RACP and RANZCP are willing to provide expert input and support to assist the Australian Government in addressing these issues.


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