Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Refugees fall through health system gaps

15 January 20141 comment


Refugees are at risk of falling seriously ill or missing out on vital health care because they are not familiar with Australia’s health system, according to new research.

And many may have mental health issues or illnesses that Australian doctors are not familiar with, the study says.

Researcher Professor Grant Russell, of the Southern Academic Primary Care Research Unit at Monash University, says that although people on refugee visas have the same Medicare and social welfare benefits as other permanent residents, many are confused by the health system.

These issues together with language and cultural barriers mean that refugees may not receive the medical care they need.

Professor Russell said there were serious inconsistencies in the care given to the almost 20,000 refugees Australia accepts each year.

He cited the example of a man from Somalia who ruined $5000 worth of medicine because a pharmacist did not realise he could not understand refrigeration instructions.

“Refugees face profound and complex health and social problems. There is a big need for interpretation and for continuing support until refugees understand the health system,” Professor Russell said.

“The system is patchy. West Australia and Northern Territory have worked out good systems for ensuring co-ordinated care. But the risk of refugees falling through the cracks is high in some other areas.

“Nearly all refugees have had a fairly traumatic experience before coming to Australia. They would not be refugees otherwise,” Professor Russell said.

The report suggests refugees receive six months of focussed care and support, after which they could be integrated into mainstream health services.

Service providers would benefit from education on how to communicate with refugees and to be sensitive to their needs, he said.

“GPs should use interpreters and be mindful of the particular health needs of refugees,” Professor Russell said.

“This could mean extra help with setting up appointments or better explanations about how a prescription is used.

“In Afghanistan, for example, community health is based on workers who go into people’s homes, who engage with them on the street or in markets. But in Australia people need an appointment at a GP or a clinic.

“The Commonwealth government needs to work closely with the states and territories to develop a strategic and integrated approach to health care,” Professor Russell said.