20 March 2012

Australian immigration problems continue as asylum seekers put strain on hospitals

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Australia's immigration situation worsened today as doctors complained of the strain asylum seekers held in Australian immigration detention centres were causing on the country's northern hospitals.

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Darwin Royal Hospital's resources are being over stretched, according to the AMA.

The Northern Territory branch of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said three to five detainees from Australian immigration centres were being brought to hospitals every day, many with mental or recurring issues.

"They are all complicated cases, because virtually all of them will have some mental health issue," said Dr Paul Bauert, president of the AMA.

Dr Bauert said the detainees placed additional strain on the hospitals in the Northern Territory as their requirements differed from typical patients.

"They often need interpreters which are hard to find, so the whole process becomes compounded. We're still having major issues with getting interpreters and getting accurate documentation from the detention centres about the patients' previous history.

"They do take up a large amount of resources in a system which is already stretched, almost to the point of not coping."

The Northern Territory's sparse population density means that medical facilities already struggle to cope with treating remote communities, particularly Aboriginal communities.

Dr Bauert called on Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Health Minister Tanya Pilbersek to visit the Royal Darwin Hospital to see for themselves the situation, but was sceptical of a response.

"Nothing seems to change, and I just think it is a bit of out of sight out of mind on the part of Minister Bowen and Tanya Pilbersek."

A spokesperson for Mr Bowen said the government's concern for the welfare of asylum seekers should not be questioned and confirmed that asylum seekers would continue to be taken to Royal Darwin as and when they need care.

"People in detention will be taken to Royal Darwin Hospital when they are medically assessed as requiring emergency or specialist health services for various health complaints."

Most of the detention centres have their own basic medical facilities but Dr Bauert says this only exacerbates the problem as many of the detainees are often needlessly given sedatives and anti depressants.

"One of the ways that's used in an effort to decrease the amount of presentations to the health staff at the detention centres is the use of anti-depressants."

A spokesperson for the health minister, Ms Plibersek, said the Australian government was providing extra funding in order to ensure the Northern Territory could cope with the excess burden of the detention centres.

"Under the government's new funding arrangements, an additional AU$150 million (£100 million) is being directed to NT hospitals in the 2011/2012 financial year."

Mandatory detention is a contentious issue in the Australian immigration debate and Dr Bauert feels long term detention with inadequate healthcare poses long term risks.

"The longer they are detained, the more likely these mental health issues are going to become permanent and we end up producing permanently damaged Australian citizens."


The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge their Australia visa applications with the Australian High Commission.

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