11/10/2015 2:23 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

Doctors Refuse To Send Children Back To Detention


Bed-wetting, nightmares, anxiety, depression, severe behaviour problems. This is what doctors at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne see repeatedly in children in detention - and it's why they refuse to send them back.

In a recorded statement supplied to The Huffington Post Australia, doctors from the RCH explained the reason for refusing to release dozens of patients back into unsafe conditions that they say traumatise children.

And AMA President Professor Brian Owler supported the protest today, saying "we must stop this vicious cycle of harm."

Paediatrician Professor Paul Monagle said the doctors had no hope of improving the situation for children they treat if they were sent back to detention.

"What we see from children in detention is a whole range of physical, mental, emotional and social disturbances that are really severe and we have no hope of improving things if we are sending those children back to detention," he said.

His colleague Dr Tom Connell, the RCH head of general medicine, said: "In children from detention, our team see children with nightmares, bed wetting, and severe behaviour problems, children from detention develop anxiety and depression.

"It's become so common that it's almost normal in children from detention to have these symptoms.

"At the Children's Hospital, our team find it's almost impossible to treat these children effectively while they remain detained.

"What we need now is for moral leadership on this issue to recognise that this is a significant problem and to move towards steps to remove children from detention," he said.

RCH consultant paediatrician Dr Kate Thomson-Bowe spoke of the long term effects that detention had on children, affecting emotional development, speech and learning.

"The anxiety and mental health consequences can start from very early childhood and we see that has an impact on their development long term," she said.

"Children need a lot of security and opportunity to play in order to develop normally.

"The environment of a detention centre is so far from what develops normal opportunity, the families don't have the opportunity to play together, the children are subject to rules and regulations that no typical child is subjected to."

The Hospital's Chairman, Rob Knowles, said in a statement that the hospital supported the doctors's right to have a responsible opinion on the matter of children in detention.

“The work of RCH doctors and nurses is highly valued by the Victorian community, and has made this hospital a global leader in adolescent and child health. It is not surprising that these same specialists would be concerned about the detention of children, on the basis that detention can have severe detrimental impacts on children’s health," he said.

"Our staff have consistently acted responsibly and in a considered manner in relation to the treatment of children in detention, and I support their right to have a responsible, considered opinion on this significant matter of public interest.”

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, said today that all children being held in immigration detention centres should be immediately released to a safe environment.

“Some of the children being treated by the Melbourne doctors have spent half their lives in detention, which is inhumane and totally unacceptable,” Professor Owler said.

“These children are suffering extreme physical and mental health issues, including severe anxiety and depression.

“Many of these conditions will stay with them throughout their lives.

“The high quality care and recovery they are receiving at the Royal Children’s Hospital and other hospitals around Australia will be diminished once the children are returned to the detention centres.

“The detention centres are not suitable environments for the health of all detainees, but the effects on children are far worse.

“These poor people, whatever their circumstances, are in our care. We must stop this vicious cycle of harm.

The protest also gained support from Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy, who praised the doctors for acting in the best interests of their patients.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said: "I understand the concern of doctors, but the Defence and Border Force staff on our vessels who were pulling dead kids out of the water don't want the boats to re-start."

According to an Australian Border Force report, there are currently 93 children being held on Nauru and 104 children in detention in Australia.

Professor Owler said the AMA would contact the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister reiterating its calls for the release of children from detention, the appointment of an independent panel of medical experts to oversee the health care of detained asylum seekers, and a review of the Border Force Act, which allows heavy penalties, including imprisonment, for doctors who speak out about health standards in detention centres.