Government tried to cover up detainees' mental health problems, inquiry hears

The Department of Immigration requested a report detailing the mental health of children being held at Christmas Island be withdrawn, an inquiry has heard.

Inquiry into children in detention

Mark Cormack, Deputy Secretary at Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and Martin Bowles, Secretary at Department of Immigration and Border Protection, give evidence at the National Inquiry into Chlidren in Immigration Detention in Sydney (AAP Image/Joel Carrett).

The former mental health director of International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) has told an inquiry that the government requested IHMS withdraw figures from a report highlighting the pervasiveness of mental health distress in child detainees.
Speaking at the Australian Human Rights Commission's National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, Dr Peter Young said the Department was “alarmed” by the report, which was submitted in the past few weeks.
“[The Department] has been fairly negative, it’s fair to say, towards that report,” he said.
“[They] asked us to withdraw the figures from our report.”

The inquiry is looking at the impact of immigration detention on children's mental and physical health.

Dr Young confirmed there were 128 instances of self-harm at detention centres in the past 15 months.
He said psychiatric testing had confirmed mental health distress was prevalent in detainees.
"The condition-rated instrument is showing about a third of the people in detention having significant mental health problems," he said.

Department of Immigration and Border Control Secretary Martin Bowles responded to the allegations, defending the staff at the centres.

Mr Bowles appeared alongside departmental colleagues Mark Cormack and Katie Constantinou at the inquiry.

“If there was a problem and our staff acted inappropriately, I will deal with that,” he said.

He also lashed out at media reports on the conditions at the Christmas Island facility, currently home to 153 children.

He said such reports were offensive to staff, and denied reports that chest and gut infections were “pervasive” at the centre.

Medications, medical aids taken off asylum seekers

A policy of stripping asylum seekers of basic medications when they arrived at off-shore detention centres caused a three-year-old girl to suffer repeated seizures, the inquiry heard.

The inquiry also heard another asylum seeker had parts of a prosthetic leg removed, while glasses and hearing aids were also seized and couldn't be reclaimed without considerable efforts by medical staff.

"This was a major problem," said Dr John Paul Sanggaran, who worked at Christmas Island detention centre in 2013.

"One of the more concerning, systematic things I saw was a couple of nurses standing around a garbage bin popping pills from a boat of new arrivals straight into the bin, with no records being taken of whose medication they were."

Another doctor working at Christmas Island at the same time, Grant Fergusson, said a three-year-old girl had medications stripped from her when she arrived, and started to have fits shortly afterwards.

After her medications were destroyed, health services on Christmas Island could only provide her with one of the two medications she needed.

"She started having seizures," Dr Fergusson said.

"She was left on that one medication.

"We eventually got supply of that medication she arrived with, but they only ordered a month's worth so in a few weeks time they ran out and she was back to one (medication) again, and this whole time she was having seizures."

He said a third medication was tried and the girl was eventually transferred off the island after a long wait and repeated requests by medical staff.

Dr Grant also described intense time pressures in making medical assessments of asylum seekers.

"There was one doctor who somewhat braggingly mentioned that in an eight-hour shift he had gone through 90 people," he said.

The hearings continue.

3 min read
Published 31 July 2014 at 11:26am
Source: World News Australia, SBS