Gurrumul Yunupingu treated badly; Elf claims it was just publicity stunt

April 8, 2016
Publicity stunt by Todd Williams.

On March 27, international award-winning artist Gurrumul Yunupingu was admitted to Royal Darwin Hospital vomiting blood and unable to talk. The treatment he received there has led to accusations of structural racism in the NT health system.

Gurrumul has suffered from Hepatitis B since he was three years' old, and his liver started bleeding as a result of his condition, causing him to vomit blood.

His friends and family had taken him to hospital and left him there, confident he would be quickly treated and come home safe.

But it appears that Gurrumul was left with internal bleeding for more than eight hours before receiving proper treatment. Spokespeople for Gurrumul claim that the artist had been been racially profiled as an alcoholic and, as a result, vital treatment was delayed.

Mark Grosse, managing director of Gurrumul's label Skinnyfish Music Australia, told ABC Radio on April 5: "I believe there was an assumption that he was a drinker, and his problems were caused by alcohol and that the effort going into saving him would be useless anyway because he'd just go back drinking," he said.

"Again I'd just like to say his condition is not related to drinking."

NT health minister John Elferink claimed the whole situation was a “publicity stunt” by Skinnyfish music. Elferink told ABC Radio Darwin on April 7: "I reject completely [that the hospital discriminated against the singer] and I think the assertion that they are [racist] is reprehensible and disgraceful.

"The organisation [Skinnyfish Music] continues to raise issues of racial abuse at about the time when their talent is about to release albums or is on the touring circuit."

Gurrumul's doctor Paul Lawton was quoted in ABC Online on April 7 as saying: "We know that racial profiling happens at Royal Darwin Hospital because of nationally published data. We know that it happens in all NT hospitals. We know it happens right around Australia.

"This is a broader issue. We need to have that discussion about how we can improve care for Indigenous Australians so they receive the same level of care as non-Indigenous Australians."

Lawton referenced the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework report, released in 2014 as evidence.

Lawton said: “The idea is not that individual people are racist but that the whole system is designed with certain assumptions that lead to people not receiving appropriate treatment for their conditions because of issues related to race."

ABC Radio Darwin has released photos of Gurrumul's medical records with the words “previous alcohol abuse” listed under “history” and the admission notes include the phrase “EtOH” which Lawton claims is code for alcohol.

Lawton and Grosse both claim that Gurrumul does not drink alcohol.

On April 7, Gurrumul underwent surgery and is reported to be recovering. The Federal minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion, has called for a report into the case.

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