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RACP calls for national healthcare programs to be extended to refugees -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: One of Australia's top medical organisations is calling on the Federal Government to extend its health programs to all refugees and asylum seekers.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is using its annual congress in Cairns this weekend to focus on the health problems of those in immigration detention.

It's calling for a range of measures, but says ending mandatory detention is key.

Sharnie Kim reports.

SHARNIE KIM: Dr John-Paul Sanggaran is still disturbed by his time treating asylum seekers at Christmas Island.

Over a few months in 2013, he witnessed what he calls "the gulf" between acceptable standards of healthcare and that practised in immigration detention centres.

JOHN-PAUL SANGGARAN: I was disgusted. The initial health assessments: they were conducted in a rather rushed fashion. Important conditions and sometimes blatantly obvious conditions were missed, which later had to be dealt with.

The medications that asylum seekers brought with them were often destroyed. Some of them were essential medications such as anti-epileptics, psych meds.

Access to specialist care was quite difficult, even when it was medically necessary and urgent. Ante-natal care is another area.

SHARNIE KIM: He says the list goes on.

It's a view shared by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which is using its annual congress to call on the Australian and New Zealand governments to extend their national health programs to all refugees and asylum seekers.

President Professor Nick Talley says, as doctors, they're duty-bound to speak up on behalf of their patients.

NICK TALLEY: This is really a significant problem. And often children are affected.

Detained children have significant language and developmental problems, sleep and behaviour disorders, mental health conditions and poorly treated physical health conditions, despite the current health support in place.

SHARNIE KIM: So what is it that you're calling on the Federal Government to do?

NICK TALLEY: We're particularly asking for the Government to ensure that appropriate health assessments occur when these people arrive; that there's appropriate access to health care. When they are back in the community, we promote long-term health care support.

And, in fact, for those held in detention, we release them.

SHARNIE KIM: Australia will spend more than $2 billion on its Immigration detention network this financial year, money Professor Talley says could be used to help fund some of the health measures.

NICK TALLEY: We also recognise, you know, there are budgetary issues. However, we are spending a very significant amount of money on detaining asylum seekers and the college believes we could better distribute that money by looking at different ways of dealing with this issue.

And we'd certainly get better health outcomes for these people who may eventually - some of them, anyway - be in the Australian community but be damaged from what's happened to them over the process.

SHARNIE KIM: Dr John-Paul Sanggaran says, while he supports the College of Physicians, he wants it to go even further and consider a boycott of immigration detention centres.

JOHN-PAUL SANGGARAN: I think that as long as there are doctors that continue to go and work in immigration detention, there will continue to be a perpetuation of the sub-standard level of care which has been provided.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's Dr John-Paul Sanggaran ending that report from Sharnie Kim in Brisbane.