The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) has expressed grave concerns on learning that the federal Government has disbanded the Immigration Health Advisory Group (IHAG). ACN believes that the Government requires the independent and expert advice of this group to address the health needs of asylum seekers, immigration detainees and newly settled humanitarian entrants.
Adjunct Professor Debra Thoms, Australian College of Nursing CEO, says the concern is now there is no formal independent reviewing of the standards of care provided in either onshore or offshore detention centres to ensure those detained receive sufficient health and mental care in accord with dignified human rights.
“ACN is deeply disturbed that the current arrangements for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection exclude advice from expert nurses”, said Adjunct Professor Thoms.
ACN also strongly disagrees with Prime Minister Abbott’s assertion that IHAG was “… a committee which was not very effectual.” In fact, IHAG introduced a raft of measures including:
• the recent review of the induction health assessment on Christmas Island, with identification of significant public health risks and consequent recommendations to reduce these risks
• significant input into the development of the Detention Health Standards
• development of a new mental health screening process
• advising on improvements to training and documentation for Mental State Examinations
• provision of advice on training requirements, to support staff in the identification and support of survivors of torture and trauma
• contributions to the development of a detention health data-set, to provide better understanding of the infectious disease profiles of people in immigration detention.
Nurses are the predominant health professional group engaged in the delivery of health care to refugees and asylum seekers in the detention network, and ACN welcomed the opportunity to participate on the IHAG through its representative Sandy Eagar.
Sandy Eagar said, “Nurses are in the forefront of health care in detention centres, from frontline assessment on Christmas Island through to health maintenance programs such as vaccination and ongoing mental health assessments. Their role is crucial in maintaining the health systems in the immigration detention networks”.
ACN believes that it is critical the Government continues to receive advice from nursing networks, along with other health experts on immigration health and urges them to immediately reinstate the IHAG.