Sick asylum seekers treated via video conferencing from Australia


Sick asylum seekers on Christmas Island are being offered videoconference appointments with specialists on the Australian mainland after damning evidence showed the deplorable state of medical services in immigration detention.

Fairfax Media understands at least one young woman on Christmas Island, who has been complaining of stomach aches for four months, was told this week that she would be seeing a specialist via videolink and the appointment would happen immediately. 

The woman says she was told by nurses that if she did not accept the video link then ‘‘there mustn’t be anything wrong with her’’, but that medical professionals at both ends would discuss her medical history.


She was also told a physical test may be conducted on location under instruction of the specialist, but with the assistance of nursing staff on Christmas Island.

The Australian Medical Association cautiously welcomed teleconferencing appointments, but said it can’t replace face-to-face consultations.

‘‘It depends on the governance around it,’’ AMA spokesman Dr Richard Kidd said. ‘‘Australia has been doing quite a bit of work in the tele-health space and video conferencing.


‘‘A specialist may be able to help the GP or nurse practitioner and help the health professional,’’ he said.

But Dr Kidd said if the consultations weren’t done thoroughly, it could just be another Immigration Department ‘‘deception’’.

‘‘I would be really anxious at this stage that it’s not just some tokenistic thing that isn’t done properly,’’ Dr Kidd said. 

‘‘I understand that a proper health assessment on an asylum seeker or refugee is going to take 40 to 45 minutes minimum, usually, and yet these doctors [on Christmas Island] were being forced to do these health assessments in less than five minutes, which is just a complete nonsense.’’

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the government contracts the International Health and Medical Service to provide services to people in detention centres through a ‘‘broad range of methods; this includes on-site and remote methods of care’’.

"The standard of care in detention centres is commensurate with those in the Australian community," she said.

But last week the standard of care in immigration detention was brought into question as the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry heard numerous examples of medical neglect and abuse claims within the immigration system.

The former medical director of the International Health and Medical Services Dr Peter Young told the inquiry that, recently, the Immigration Department wanted figures showing alarming rates of mental health among children withdrawn.

The inquiry also heard of a three-year-old girl with epilepsy whose medication was immediately destroyed when she arrived on Christmas Island, resulting in subsequent seizures.

Major medical bodies have since applauded Dr Young for his brave decision to speak out.

‘‘It’s imperative that professionals do speak out when they realise the full extent of conditions in detention,’’ Professor Louise Newman from Monash University said.

‘‘This is very much a crisis in detention, but also a crisis of ethics for professionals who cannot work in an environment that is so damaging for people,’’ she said.

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The Canberra Times, August 11, 2014 Ben Doherty, Sarah Whyte EXCLUSIVE A controversial deal to allow Australia to send refugees to Cambodia is imminent and could be signed as early as this week, sources have told Fairfax Media. The Australian and Cambodian governments have been negotiating for months over a deal to resettle up to 1000 refugees from the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru in Cambodia. Critics of the proposed deal say Cambodia is unprepared to accept large numbers of refugees. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was scheduled to meet her Cambodian counterpart on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit foreign ministers' meeting on the weekend and Australia's Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues, Craig Chittick, will visit the country next week, Fairfax Media understands. A spokesman for Ms Bishop said no agreement with Cambodia had been signed yet. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said through a spokesman there was "no further update on the status" of discussions with Cambodia since his visit to Phnom Penh earlier this year. Full story: