Manus healthcare provider forced to leave for practising unlicensed

IHMS replaced by skeleton staff from PNG company providing detainees only basic and emergency medical care

Manus island detainees
Some Manus detainees requiring medication for chronic conditions have been left without medication during the changeover, the Guardian has been told. Photograph: Reuters

The Manus Island detention centre’s controversial healthcare provider – International Health and Medical Services – has been forced to abandon the island because it was found to be practising medicine unlicensed.

The company has left the island, replaced from midnight on 31 March by a skeleton staff from a PNG company, Paradise, which is providing only basic and emergency medical care.

Some detainees requiring medication for chronic conditions have been left without medication during the changeover, the Guardian has been told.

Those held in the detention centre say they fear their healthcare, already compromised, will deteriorate further.

“We are worried that our situation is getting worse. Hundreds of refugees are seriously sick and need medical treatment. We have a logical fear of our medical needs being neglected again,” Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani said.

“The refugees are happy that IHMS left Manus, not because they think Paradise will provide medical treatment for them, but because they hate IHMS. IHMS was one of the main tools for torturing people in Manus during four years of suffering.”

In a statement, IHMS confirmed it had been forced to temporarily cease operations because of ongoing issues over its medical licence.

“Despite extensive representations by IHMS and the Australian government, the PNG Medical Board has to date only renewed the authorities to practise for 27% of staff, meaning that the majority are unregistered to practise in PNG.”

In March, an independent review undertaken on behalf of the PNG government found that IHMS’s parent company, International SOS, had not been licensed under the Medical Registration Act to operate its Manus Island facility.

In response, IHMS said it was licensed to work on Manus, but had “received conflicting advice from the PNG Government regarding who should hold the licence.”

“Overlaying the licensing issue, as a result of competing commercial interests within the healthcare sector in PNG, IHMS has been the target of multiple unfounded accusations including that IHMS has not complied with PNG labour, immigration and taxation laws. IHMS provided the PNG government all the information required to refute these allegations.”

IHMS employed about 130 staff on the island under contract with the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

IHMS said it hoped to resolve the licensing issues and to resume services “in the very near future”.

But the company’s four-year tenure on the island has been marred by controversy.

In 2014, Hamid Kehazaei died from a treatable infection that was allowed to deteriorate into sepsis and, ultimately, multiple organ failure. A coroner’s court heard Kehazaei’s condition was misdiagnosed, mistreated and that the IHMS-run medical centre on the island had broken equipment, insufficient medicine and inadequately-trained staff. Staff working for IHMS ignored instructions from doctors and failed to administer fundamental care for Kehazaei, such as proper pain relief and intubation, before he was evacuated from the island in an air ambulance, already critically ill.

In December, Sudanese refugee Faysal Ishak Ahmed died after having repeated seizures on the island, falling and hitting his head.

He had sought medical treatment from the IHMS clinic more than 20 times over several months, but had been repeatedly turned away, told there was no bed for him, and that he was pretending to be unwell.

A 2015 Guardian investigation revealed IHMS consistently failed to meet medical targets and deliberately included incorrect data in reports to the department. It said it was “inevitable” that its healthcare reports to government would be fraudulent.

It also hired staff without police checks, and its record-keeping was so poor it didn’t know in which country its patients were.

Reviews commissioned by the department found it had failed to appropriately oversee IHMS operations.

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