QUEENSLAND Health spends millions of dollars a year treating thousands of Papua New Guinea nationals not eligible for Medicare – and the numbers are on the rise, Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper reported yesterday.
Departmental figures show the treatment of more than 2,300 PNG nationals cost the state A$6.94 million (K17.79 million) in 2007-08, including A$763,000 (K2 million) in patient transfers between Thursday Island and Cairns.
For one patient with tuberculosis, the pharmaceutical costs alone were almost A$25,000.
In the four years up to and including the 2007-08 financial year, the cost of treating PNG patients in Queensland was A$20.8 million. The Commonwealth provided A$12.7 million of that – a shortfall of more than A$8 million.
Funding was increased to A$16.2 million over four years in last year’s federal Budget, enough to cover about half the expected costs.
Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid said PNG nationals were presenting to Queensland Health facilities with an “expanding” range of medical conditions including injuries, infections and communicable diseases.
He said their treatment in Australia was the direct result of the Commonwealth’s Torres Strait Treaty, which allowed movement by PNG nationals for traditional purposes from some villages into the outer islands of the Torres Strait.
But a spokeswoman for the Federal Health and Ageing Department said health services provided by the State Government were actually not part of the treaty’s provisions.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Mason Stevenson said the amount of money being spent by both governments was “small” in relation to the health budget as a whole.
“It could be regarded as humanitarian aid to an impoverished Australian neighbour,” Dr Stevenson said.
“Both Federal and State Governments ought to be applauded for their ongoing preparedness to provide such excellent humanitarian aid to our nearest neighbour.”
A recent State Government submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee’s inquiry into the Torres Strait region expressed concern about the risks to Torres Strait Islanders from PNG nationals with infectious diseases such as TB and HIV. – www.couriermail.com.au