The National, Wednesday, April 27, 2011
SERIOUSLY ill patients from PNG, often with family links to Australians, have become the latest of boat people facing official rejection from Australia.
The rising number of PNG nationals sailing to the Torres Strait to receive medical treatment has generated a dispute between the federal and Queensland governments over who is ultimately responsible for the cost of their care.
Medical experts warned that a failure to ensure proper treatment for the PNG patients risks leading to the spread of drug-resistant TB to Australia.
Medivacs of PNG nationals from the Torres Strait to Queensland hospitals more than doubled last financial year compared with the previous year, and the pressure on services has spurred a backlash from Australian citizens in the Torres Strait.
After an ABC report about the planned shutdown of TB clinics in the islands, the federal and Queensland governments were denying responsibility for services and each side said the other administration was responsible.
The federal health department said the Commonwealth did “not direct Queensland in providing these services” and the extent of services was “a decision by Queensland health”.
But Queensland health said the federal health department advised it “to reduce services because it (the federal department) was unlikely to provide additional funds to cover the cost of full services”.
“The provision and scope of health services for PNG nationals are Commonwealth government responsibilities,” it said.
It provided the services to PNG nationals “under the direction of the Commonwealth”, which contributed A$4 million a year of the total A$18 million cost of the services.
Dr Justin Waring, of the national TB advisory committee, said: “Not treating these people who come to Australia runs the risk of transition and escalation of the drug resistance and potentially putting Australian residents at risk.”
Queensland Liberal senator Russell Trood, who chaired an extensive inquiry into the Torres Strait Islands, said Australia faced a challenging dilemma in humanely treating the large numbers of sick PNG citizens who had few or no health services in PNG but were so near the medical services of Australia.
Australian state and federal governments, in consultation with PNG, were considering services being provided to PNG nationals “due to mounting costs and concerns about the increasing impact on access to health services being voiced by Torres Strait communities”. – smh.com.au