let Medevac go on saving lives


Twelve people died under the old system. A coronial inquest found at least one death was due to delayed medical treatment. Importantly, the new rules only apply to the existing cohort of refugees and asylum seekers in PNG and Nauru, now below 600 people.

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Senate estimates recently heard that 135 people had been brought to Australia for urgent medical treatment under Medevac. Critics have sought to suggest that, because only 13 have been admitted to hospital, the rest are somehow gaming the system and that Medevac is a flawed law.

However, hospitalisation rates are in line with expectations for Medevac transfers. These are patients who have developed serious chronic conditions as a result of being forced to wait for between two and five years for treatment.

Chronic heart conditions, kidney failure and unmanaged diabetes don’t necessarily require inpatient investigation or treatment at a hospital but instead require extensive and ongoing outpatient treatment. Many treating doctors who have recommended transfer under Medevac are concerned they have no role in the ongoing care of their patients, with the vast majority held in onshore detention where access to information becomes notoriously opaque.

From what we can gather, five people have refused some part of their medical treatment, most likely because they’re severely ill and haven’t understood what was being asked, while others have had difficulty completing the induction check, which is unrelated to their medical treatment.

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What we do know is that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has personally approved 86 per cent of Medevac cases – agreeing with the treating doctors without seeking review from the government-appointed Independent Health Advice Panel.

Despite the massive fear and smear campaign run by senior government ministers, our public hospitals have not been overrun by asylum seekers, flotillas of boats have not arrived due to Medevac, and the re-opening of Christmas Island looks like an expensive public relations stunt.

Dutton’s claim that asylum seekers are self-harming to gain entry to Australia is not supported by medical evidence and denies Australia’s responsibility for holding people hostage with no hope in mandatory offshore detention. Dutton can still reject a medical transfer on national security grounds.

Lambie correctly states that the vote on the proposed repeal of Medevac should be approached as a matter of conscience.

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The fact remains that doctors are best placed to make medical decisions in the interests of patients, instead of bureaucrats with a political agenda.

Nine months after Medevac was passed, Operation Sovereign Borders is still serving its intended purpose. The boats have stopped. Medevac is serving its intended purpose of saving lives.

More than 7000 doctors, the AMA, 13 medical colleges, a collection of human rights groups, refugee and welfare advocates, concerned citizens and parliamentarians stood up for change. That is why the Parliament acted as it did in February and there is not a shred of credible evidence since then that it should change its mind.

Dr Kerryn Phelps is a former AMA president and former independent member for Wentworth.

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