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Claim that ‘hundreds’ of Indigenous people have been denied proper medical care in an inquest into Queensland hospital deaths

A North Queensland community leader says he is aware of hundreds of First Nations people being denied adequate medical care as the investigation into three deaths in 2019 continues.

A coroner’s inquest which began on Monday is looking into the deaths of Betty Booth, Shakaya George and Adele Sandy who were allegedly denied adequate medical treatment at Doomadgee Hospital in North West Queensland.

The three young Aboriginal women suffered from severe rheumatic heart disease and died after being treated in hospital.

In March, ABC’s Four Corners program reported on the circumstances surrounding the deaths and found that Doomadgee Hospital had a history of failing to follow basic medical procedures and keeping medical records for some patients up to date.

Alec Doomadgee, a man of Waanyi, Garawa and Gangalidda tradition, said the treatment of women showed that the health system did not care about the welfare of First Nations people.

“There were hundreds turned back and people also died,” he said.

“A lot of people have been beaten by the system and they’re giving up, a lot of our crowd are walking away from it.

“I happen to have a big mouth and I never give up – for over two years I’ve been telling the story.

“It’s something we have to sort out and there are a lot of families who haven’t been able to do that.”

Mr Doomadgee said he hoped the fight for justice for Ms Booth, Ms George and Ms Sandy would help other families move forward.

“It’s hard to fight against a system that reports to themselves, that investigates themselves,” he said.

“I’m quite excited but I too am frustrated and losing hope.

“Health is doing an internal investigation, maybe someone loses their job, but the system remains the same, nothing changes except the people running it.”

Mr. Doomadgee was related to two of the women.

Ms Booth and Ms George were 18 and 17 at the time of their deaths.

The inquest is investigating the cause of death and the adequacy of health services provided by Gidgee Healing at Doomadgee and Doomadgee Hospital.

North West Hospital and Health Service chief executive Craig Carey said staff at the service provide high-quality, safe and culturally appropriate health care.

“Community members are not diverted from our health services and our staff work to help community members access the health care they need,” he said.

“HHS works with Native councils, health boards and other health care providers to provide the services our communities seek and value,” he said.

Mr Carey said the service was finalizing a new health strategy in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health stakeholders and organisations, communities and staff.

“Our strategy is focused on achieving health equity, identifying and eliminating racial discrimination and institutional racism, and working with our communities to improve health outcomes for First Nations people. The North West Health Equity Strategy will be released in September 2022,” he said.

The inquiry will hold two further blocks of hearings in Cairns in August and September.

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