Medical data released by the ASRC shows people offshore are waiting at least two years for medical transfer

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has released a sample of 49 de-identified medical cases of critically sick people held in offshore processing on Manus and Nauru.

The data is the product of research into International Health Medical Services (IHMS – funded by the Australian Government) health records which document people’s presentations to medical staff, emergence of symptoms, treatment recommended and medical transfer requests.

The ASRC’s detention advocacy team case manages over 70 people currently held on Manus and Nauru, and obtain IHMS records as part of our case work.

The data sample shows:

  • Over half of the cases in the sample, 25 people have been recommended for medical transfer by IHMS who employ Australian Government appointed physicians for medical treatment, are still awaiting transfer.

  • the majority have been waiting for 2 to 3 years, with some Overseas Medical Requests made by clinicians more than 5 years ago. Patients’ conditions have escalated in severity and complexity in the meantime.

  • People experiencing physical and mental health symptoms that require urgent medical treatment range from young adults to people over 60.

  • People suffer from a wide range of treatable physical illnesses such as cardiac and respiratory conditions, kidney stones, abdominal conditions like gastritis, internal and external infections, joint conditions, gynaecological and urological conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.

  • Mental health conditions include repeated incidents of self-harm and suicidality, mood disorders and symptoms relating to ongoing trauma and post trauma.

  • Data shows when the first diagnosis of a physical condition is medically neglected, people develop mental health conditions over time parallel to intensifying physical symptoms.


IHMS left Manus Island in March 2018, and case workers have observed further severe deterioration in men’s physical and mental conditions since.


In the absence of medical treatment, men on Manus turn to case work and treatment over the phone, and rely on each other for mental health support.

Men and women on Nauru continue to be treated by IHMS medical staff, but medical transfer requests are forced through via legal intervention by caseworkers and lawyers. In just six months, legal intervention has secured urgent transfers to Australia for over 260 people, including children needing life-saving medical treatment.

Former IHMS staff and whistleblower, Dr Peter Young said “Medical transfer requests are made sparsely and reluctantly because doctors know they will be blocked by the department. So many people who need them but have not reached critical need yet don’t get transfer requests.”

“The department doesn’t like it  if we make too many requests for the one person either, so staff would sometimes just give up after a while”

“It’s appalling and unconscionable that our government is doing everything it can to prevent doctor’s advice being followed and to increase illness and suffering of people in offshore detention,” Peter said.

Detention Advocacy Manager, Natasha Blucher said: “The records show only a sample of what people are enduring because of nearly six years of medical neglect.”

“There are over 1080 people held offshore, and the ASRC has a waiting list of 215 people needing our help to access some treatment to alleviate mental and physical symptoms over the phone. The crisis is bigger and more severe than the government is saying,” Natahsa said.

Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Jana Favero said “The government will try to discredit Doctors and use every trick available for political means, but the evidence is clear – the transfer system is failing and will lead to more deaths.”

Aziz Abdul Adam, a man detained on Manus for six years said: “the situation on Manus island is now so bad that many men will be left permanently disabled or need extensive medical and psychiatric care to recover from indefinite detention.

“We are living with painful sickness that gets worse over years .People struggle to do everyday things after almost 6 years in indefinite detention.  People feel so bad they harm themselves and attempt suicide.”

“I take care of at least 30  people who have harmed themselves and don’t have anyone else to turn to. I am not a doctor but I try to do my best.  I get very tired and I am traumatised myself.”

“The local doctors on Manus don’t want to treat us, they send police when someone attempts suicide instead of a medical nurse or doctor.” Aziz said.

The only solution is for the bill before Parliament next week to be passed to ensure that sick men and women have access to urgent, appropriate medical treatment.

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