Immigration healthcare firm ‘likely to fail’ on child protection – briefing note

Young asylum seekers at a detention centre run by the Australian government.

Australia’s healthcare provider for asylum seekers in detention could not guarantee its staff were cleared to work with children and admitted it was likely it would fail any compliance checks on the issue.

In a January 2014 meeting briefing note, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) lists one of the discussion points as maintenance of clinician records and admits it does not know whether all staff have undergone working with children (WWC) checks at the Perth immigration reception and processing centre in Western Australia.

The note questions whether staff need to physically carry their WWC check card with them while working on site.

“Some sites are likely to fail at the moment, for working with children checks, and basic life support checks – what is the baseline for site liaison to measure our competency for these credentials?” the note says.

“Not all people have working with children, BLS, they had issues with this in the past, saying from WA government that needs to get from commonwealth and etc need to formalise.”

The note seemed to reference confusion about the process and the role of the state and federal governments.

WWC checks are usually administered by the state and in WA are “a comprehensive criminal record check for certain people in child-related work”, according to the government’s website.

“The WWC check aims to increase the safety of children in our community by helping to prevent people who have a criminal history that indicates they may harm children from working with children,” it says.

In a separate internal document, leaked to Guardian Australia, it is revealed IHMS was failing to act on complaints of asylum seekers including accusations of bullying.

A document from January 2014 shows IMHS failed to deal with complaints properly, handling only 59% of complaints from asylum seekers within an adequate timeframe.

The complaints which were not dealt with properly included an asylum seeker who accused an IMHS staff member of bullying and putting incorrect information in their health notes and a woman who was unhappy with the health assessment of her child.

Other complaints related to appointments which were cancelled and not rescheduled and another who said their name had been wrongly put on the missed meal register.

The document had tabs for record-keeping from February through to December but only January was completed.

In Melbourne immigration transit accommodation 33% of complaints were dealt with properly, while in Northern immigration detention centre the rate was 60%. In Curtin it was 67%, Villawood was 50% and in Yongah Hill immigration detention centre it was 67%.

The only centre which achieved compliance was Darwin airport lodge where just one complaint was received.

A spokeswoman for IHMS said in a statement: “IHMS has at all times complied with internal, external and departmental audits.”

A spokeswoman for the immigration department said: “The department has and continues to work with its service provider, IHMS to regularly review its reporting frameworks.

“On 11 December 2014, the department commenced a new contract with IHMS. The new contract includes a strengthened performance management framework which includes both abatements and incentives and focuses on detainee health and service outcomes.”

“The department remains committed to ensuring that it has the best available information and expertise to manage the health of those in detention, particularly children.”