23 May 2006

Health care? Who cares?

I don't usually rant here about stuff I read in the media. I usually vent my spleen on my poor, long-suffering loved ones.

But this has pushed me to speak up.

Our government has a legal responsibility to provide health care to people in custody. It's the law. But for some reason, detainees from Baxter have been taken from Glenside Psychiatric Hospital against the advice of their psychiatrists.

'The former director of mental health in South Australia, Associate Professor Jonathan Phillips, says he cannot think of any other case where a psychiatrist's recommendations for treatment were overruled.

"It worries me deeply if a treating psychiatrist or a treating physician or a treating surgeon, any medical person, is overridden because if you think about it, that is the person who deals with patient, the client, day in day out," he said.'

Of course the department of immigration has denied having anything to do with this, and claims they followed the recommendation of the facility's medical director. Well, that's not bloody good enough. Two of these men have since recieved psychiatric treatment at another facility. Their own treating psychiatrists did not think they should be discharged from the hospital. I simply cannot believe that this decision was made in their best interests. I could believe it was due to the politics within the hospital, rather than without. But the Director of the hospital should explain what caused him to over-rule the advice of those treating these people, and whether the decision was made under pressure from the government.

The immigration department's track record on health is absolutely shameful, with repeated and ongoing incidences of people in detention centres being denied psychiatric treatment.

You Aussies reading this will all remember the case of Cornelia Rau, an Aussie chick with schizophrenia who got caught up in the detention system as an illegal immigrant because she was too sick to give accurate information about who she was. Everyone said at the time that it was awful that such a mistake was made, that an Aussie was left in detention for 18 months or something like that (I'm too busy ranting to go find a link). The truly awful thing about that was the lack of mental health treatment she recieved while in detention. Even when she did see a mental health professional, their recommendations were completely ignored.

The fact that she was an Aussie doesn't make this any more awful. ANYBODY who the government locks up has a legal right to medical treatment. Psychiatric treatment IS medical treatment.

There was another incident where detainees got onto the roof of Baxter and stayed up there in protest. One report in one paper stated that they were protesting because their psychiatric medication had been taken away. One report. Subsequent reports in that paper made no mention of this at all, and portrayed it simply as bad behaviour.

That's half the problem. The media refuses to report on mental health issues that detainees have for what they really are. They persistanty structure their stories in a way that shows detainees as irrational, ungrateful, badly behaved, immoral, - but refuse to acknowledge that these are symptoms of untreated illness. And that these symptoms have been triggered by the conditions in Baxter.

It's not just an issue of 'illegal' immigrants. It's not just an issue of mental health. A few years ago the Australian governent invited some East Timorese refugees to Australia - and then refused to give the women Pap smears, even though it was known that this population of women had high levels of cervical cancer. Pap smears are preventative treatment. Preventative treatment is included under the government's legal obligation to give people in its care medical treatment. These refugees were not illegal. Our government simply does not give a shit about their duty of care.

The health system here is crumbling. The mental health system has been crumbling for years. The mental health services in this country are appalingly understaffed and underfunded. Our fucking government has thrown a wad of money towards mental health in it's most recent budget. It's not enough. It's nowhere even close. And a whole lot of it is going towards phone lines, in a pathetic bid to stop mental illness before it occurs. Don't get me wrong, crisis phone lines are valuble. But when people are dying because they cannot get a hospital bed, 'preventative' phone lines are not really the most important thing. I have known over half a dozen people who have died while waiting for a bed in a psychiatric unit. This is partly why this issue means so much to me. And when there are years of repeated suicide attempts at Baxter, and then the director of Glenside makes a seemingly arbitary decision to shaft the people who need care, something is wrong. And that something is wrong within the government.


Summer Rose said...

That's horrible, what is wrong with people these days? I'm with you on all points of this post. I'm sorry of your losses of friends to suicide. My heart does go out to those who need help and don't get it.
Take care of yourself

The Secret Life of Me said...

All so true. I really hope we get rid of the current government at the next election. They have no compassion for anyone. They keep saying that they have a mandate to do these things in the best interests of the country, but all they are doing is making people angry and disillusioned. Any person with half a brain just needs to imagine themselves in the shoes of a refugee/immigrant/pyschiatric patient/sacked worker/aborigine/woman(?)/homosexual/(insert any other minority group here) and see how horribly these people and many others are being treated. Life is not just all about white middle-class males, it is about all humans.

My greatest fear is that the liberals will get back in on their next scare-campaign. My second greatest fear is that the alternative party may not be all that different.

hasarder said...

Fucken oath. I never thought the Libs would get back in, but when they did I lost all hope for this country. I'm so dissolusioned I don't think we will get them out next election - as you said, anyone with half a brain who bothered to keep track of what was going on could see what was happening but they got voted in again anyway... so it's obvious to me that too many people here don't bloody think at all. And as you said, the other side's not much better - Labor is not quite as right wing as the libs, but not far off.

To be honest our current government reminds me of the early days of Hitler's government (before he started killing people). They got in to 'fix the economy' and have then proceeded to demonise and marginalise a whole bunch of people - gays, migrants, people with mental illness, minority groups - and intellectuals. They've pulled funding from universities and have created laws limiting free speech... it's all far too familiar. Partner says, everytime there's some new outrage "I thought they'd got as bad as it gets!" But I know from history it gets much worse that this.

The Secret Life of Me said...

The parallels are scary. I know the current regime is against a republic (or so they say), but the model they put up at the referendum fits in with the notion of a totalitarian state, ie president nominated by the government. Sure, they'd be a figurehead to start off with, but how long would it take for them to acquire "powers". They just can't stand the people getting what they want.

Kev said...

I think this is an acute problem in Australia and has been for many years. However it is also an acutely contemporary problem in Western nations. Too much attention has gone to economic welfare and economic growth, but the landscape many of us struggle in are not those of physical survival, or if they are, it is not the central problem. Poverty exists and grows, but nothing like the way it does in some parts of the world.

No, the problems many of us face are those of psychological survival and emotional nourishment, and that landscape is getting scarier and more confusing all the time. The ties that bind the community have been broken and sacrificed time and time again in the name of what is good for the balance sheet.

A government and a culture that allows people in need of care and support to starve and die from the lack of it, is one that just does not understand that their obcession with doing business and playing with spreadsheets, and having meetings pouring over risk management reports and key performance indicators, is playing havoc with the citizens they use as pawns in their game of real life monopoly. People are not little die cast minatures to move around a board, they are living beings whose mental welfare is the lifeblood of the nation's future and the nation's character.