Traumatised refugees crowd NT hospitals

Up to five refugees are brought to Darwin's main hospital with trauma each day.

The Northern Territory’s peak doctors’ body says Darwin’s main hospital is struggling to cope with up to five refugees a day coming in for treatment for self-harm, mental illness and chronic anxiety.

See also: The Northern Territory: Australia's refugee detention capital

The revelation that the Northern Territory’s public health system was having trouble handling the numbers of asylum seekers coming from detention suffering trauma came a week after the federal government announced it would pump almost $60 million into the NT’s police force.

Australian Medical Association NT president Dr Paul Bauert said on March 20 that many asylum seekers had tried to commit suicide and some have been admitted to the psychiatric ward. But “the patients are sent back to exactly the same conditions that have caused their high level of psychiatric illness”.

Refugee advocates say self-harm and suicide attempts are an “epidemic” in Darwin’s Northern Immigration Detention Centre. A man held there tried to kill himself by swallowing a light bulb on March 20, the second recent case at the centre.

The association said the federal government was ignoring the hospital's inability to cope with the numbers, and “immigration health services were not helping”, ABC Online said on March 20.

Medical treatment for asylum seekers in detention centres is run by private contractor International Health and Medical Services. Bauert said doctors had “major issues” getting the patient’s accurate medical history from the detention centres.

Bauert said anti-depressants were used to reduce the “amount of presentations to health staff”.

Refugees frequently report that they are prescribed heavy doses of psychiatric drugs and sleeping pills.

“One gets the feeling that both [immigration] minister [Chris] Bowen and the health minister, [Tanya] Plibersek … have no understanding of the amount of psychological stress that they are putting on these unfortunate people in detention,” Bauert said.

Darwin’s health system is struggling with the psychiatric crisis of refugees held in arbitrary detention, but Bowen said the federal government would provide $53 million to the NT’s police force.

The funding would put almost 100 extra police on duty to quell unrest in detention centres and assist with “compliance and removal operations”.

Read more refugee rights coverage.

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