In these days of litigation over medical malpractice, you’d be hoping the Commonwealth National Emergency Task Force is paying full premiums to cover members of their medical inspection teams in their efforts to save the children.

Because a simple fact is becoming increasingly clear: for all their good intentions, the imported medicos are failing to do the job they have been given. They just don’t have the expertise in Aboriginal child health—and certainly have not been given enough training in such skills.

And the skills of professionals in the field is being side-stepped.

As Crikey has revealed (4 September), for some weeks now there have been concerns by these health professionals that the intervention medical teams are just “skimming” Aboriginal child health problems. In other words, the intervention medical teams are only diagnosing a portion of the disease load that is already known to be out there – disease levels which are already well known to the Commonwealth’s Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH) in Tony Abbott’s department.

Crikey has now learnt that this misdiagnosis rate is under review, and seems to be averaging 50% below known disease and illness rates.

Quite apart from lying about the number of kids so far checked, diagnosis rates for ear infections is nevertheless acknowledged by Abbott’s office as being up to 77% adrift from the best research available.

Dr Peter Maurice, paediatrician with the child health division of Menzies School of Health and Research in Darwin yesterday told local ABC radio said he expected such doctors to get it wrong “if they hadn’t had specific training in the diagnosis in particularly young children … there is a lot of errors”:

We would hope that the people doing the examinations would be able to recognise the kids with discharging ears, so pus coming out of their ears, but they might not be able to recognise kids with fluid behind their eardrums and a hearing loss associated with that.

It’s a difficult diagnosis and, you know, people get it wrong quite frequently.

There are only really two explanations. So one is the incorrect diagnosis which is the more likely, and the other one is that they’re mainly seeing older children – so mainly seeing children sort of in the 10 to 16 year old age group rather than the under 10s.

The true picture in the Territory is that in most communities, children develop an ear infection by three months of age and that persists for many years.

So we’ve got good data from the Menzies School of Health Research showing that 80 to 90% of children have ear infections in the first, persistent ear infections in the first three years of life.

We haven’t got such good data beyond that age, but what data we have got suggests there’s a gradual, but very modest improvement over time, but still a majority of children up to 10 years of age have got ear disease.

Dr Maurice said “the underlying cause would be overcrowding and you know, relatively poor access to washing facilities, high rates of bacterial infection in the nose of particularly toddlers and that sort of early spread to babies … so unfortunately the babies when they’ve got a relatively weak immune system, they’re getting exposed to relatively severe infections.”

He also agreed that it was “a fair comment” by the Australasian College of Surgeons that “there’s been no commitment of sufficient long term funding to combat this problem”.