Bor­der Force silent on PNG crack­down

The Australian - - THE NATION - MICHAEL McKENNA

The Aus­tralian Bor­der Force has been ac­cused of a “heavy­handed’’ crack­down on Pa­pua New Guineans re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal treat­ment in far north Queens­land af­ter a grand­mother was de­tained and guards as­signed to a ma­ter­nity unit.

Doc­tors and Queens­land Health of­fi­cials have writ­ten to the ABF over a sus­pected change in pol­icy to PNG na­tion­als re­ceiv­ing emer­gency med­i­cal treat­ment af­ter ar­riv­ing on Aus­tralian is­lands in the Tor­res Strait.

It fol­lows the on­go­ing de­ten­tion in Bris­bane of a woman, 55, who un­der­went surgery for acute ap­pen­dici­tis in Cairns af­ter seek­ing help in Fe­bru­ary on the is­land of Saibai.

An­other PNG woman, who was flown from Boigu to Townsville for an emer­gency de­liv­ery, was later placed un­der guard with her new­born be­fore be­ing re­turned to the Tor­res Strait and then to main­land PNG.

PNG na­tion­als who seek help at a med­i­cal fa­cil­ity in the Tor­res Strait are treated ac­cord­ing to need — in­clud­ing trans­fers to Queens­land hos­pi­tals — be­fore usu­ally be­ing re­turned to the is­lands at the ex­pense of Queens­land Health.

Doc­tors and other health pro­fes­sion­als in the re­gion have ac­cused the ABF of mov­ing to over­turn a sys­tem that has been in place for decades.

Tor­res and Cape Hos­pi­tal and Health Ser­vice Board chair­man Bob Mc­Carthy said doc­tors feared pa­tients would au­to­mat­i­cally be put in de­ten­tion if they were sent to main­land hos­pi­tals for treat­ment.

“The sys­tem has been work­ing for well over 20 years and now we have this unan­nounced change in pol­icy which is cre­at­ing is­sues for us and our pa­tients,’’ he said.

“Doc­tors are placed in con­flict in the sense, do they deal with a pa­tient on the is­land or re­fer them and run the risk of them be­ing placed in cus­tody?

“They should be able to feel quite free to send the pa­tients where they get the best treat­ment.’’

Mr Mc­Carthy said one of three preg­nant PNG women — sent to the Townsville hos­pi­tal to give birth in re­cent months — was placed un­der guard with her new­born un­til she was re­turned to the Tor­res Strait.

Queens­land Health Min­is­ter Steven Miles ques­tioned why the woman — who has re­peat­edly sought to re­turn to PNG — was be­ing de­tained.

“Queens­land Health and the Tor­res and Cape Hos­pi­tal and Health Ser­vice are ea­ger to re­turn her to her home as would usu­ally be the case,’’ he said.

“I can­not see why Bor­der Force would need to de­tain her for this length of time.’’

A spokesman for Bor­der Force last night did not com­ment on claims of a re­gion-wide crack­down on PNG na­tion­als seek­ing med­i­cal help in the Tor­res Strait.

The spokesman said the woman, de­tained since she was dis­charged on Fe­bru­ary 28, was flown to Bris­bane for med­i­cal rea­sons. “Af­ter sur­gi­cal treat­ment in Cairns and dis­charge from hos­pi­tal, this in­di­vid­ual re­quired fur­ther med­i­cal care,’’ he said.

“It was deemed this care could be best pro­vided in Bris­bane.

“Ar­range­ments are be­ing made for her re­turn to PNG.’’

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