Panel of 'medevac' doctors backs minister

Doctors are mostly backing Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton in relation to medevac laws.
Doctors are mostly backing Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton in relation to medevac laws.

An independent panel of doctors reviewing "medevac" transfers of refugees in offshore detention is supporting Peter Dutton's refusals in the majority of cases.

However, the panel has raised concerns about delays in the advice being presented to the home affairs minister and a "lack of movement" evacuating sick people from Nauru.

The panel considered 57 cases between July and September and upheld Mr Dutton's decision to deny medical transfers 45 times.

It overturned his decisions on the remaining 12 cases where it considered medical treatment on the mainland was required.

Mr Dutton approved the transfer of another 92 asylum seekers without referring their cases to the panel.

Another 16 people came to the mainland under separate provisions.

In its latest quarterly report, the panel said it aired a range of concerns during a meeting with department officials.

The panel is concerned about a lack of in-person interpreters available to asylum seekers, especially those with mental health issues.

"There was agreement that interpretation via telephone was not an acceptable option for these people and could be a genuine impediment to providing sound clinical treatment and care," the panel said in a report.

They also raised concerns about delays occurring between treating doctors recommending medical transfers and the minister reviewing the referrals.

A "lack of movement" from Nauru when the panel had recommended medical transfers was also discussed.

"The panel understands the process involved; however, they are frustrated at the lack of progress on individual cases."

Panel members have visited Papua New Guinea and aim to travel to Nauru as soon as possible.

Human Rights Law Centre legal director David Burke said the report showed the medevac laws were working.

"This report summary exposes the prime minister's baseless hysteria when opposing the medevac laws," Mr Burke said.

"The minister has approved many more transfers for sick people himself, without even needing to go to the panel.

"The panel is providing reasonable, independent oversight of any refusals by the minister. It is ensuring that when people need medical treatment, they are able to access it."

Labor and the crossbench rammed the medevac laws through parliament earlier this year, and the government is now trying to unwind them.

The laws give doctors a much greater say in the evacuation of sick refugees from offshore detention to the mainland for medical treatment.

Medical evacuations can be refused on national security grounds, or if a person has a serious criminal record.

However, the minister claims his powers to block transfers have been drastically curtailed.

Australian Associated Press