Queensland Health has pledged not to charge sexual assault victims without access to Medicare for rape kits and will review its policies for other medical costs, after the findings of a comprehensive review.
The announcement comes after Guardian Australia reported on Thursday that one woman who was ineligible for Medicare was billed $800 for pathology testing this year after a sexual assault.
“Queensland Health will not charge any person for a sexual assault investigation kit or examination,” a spokesperson told Guardian Australia Friday.
“We understand the importance of reviewing our policies to ensure the services we deliver to any person, at any hospital, remain suitable and supportive.”
Queensland’s Women’s Safety and Justice taskforce highlighted the issue, with its final report released last week containing 188 recommendations to improve treatment in the criminal justice system.
One of these was for Queensland Health to “immediately” stop charging victims who aren’t covered by Medicare for medical costs associated with sexual assault.
They also called on the Health Department to ensure rape kits are at least of consistent quality as those used in New South Wales and Victoria.
The report heard the practice of charging victims had “distressed” tourists, international students, migrants and refugees, and that said some women have experienced “gross” breaches of privacy when invoices were sent to a family address overseas.
Queensland Health acknowledged the findings of the report and said the government would respond to the recommendations “in due course”.
Queensland’s attorney general, Shannon Fentiman, confirmed the government was “carefully considering” all 188 recommendations of the taskforce’s final report.
This came after the Liberal National party and the Queensland Greens voiced their concerns about sexual assault victims being charged for tests and forensic examinations.
“Imagine a victim having gone through a trauma like that. A young tourist. And then being asked to pay for your opportunity for justice,” the opposition leader, David Crisafulli, said on Friday.
“We have reached a new level of absurdity.”
Crisafulli said the matter was not a health issue, adding “these women are victims of crime”.
“If a male tourist had his wallet stolen we would not charge him to investigate the crime. Why on earth would we charge a female victim of rape to investigate the crime committed against her,” he said.
The Greens’ South Brisbane MP, Amy MacMahon, said no one should have to pay for forensic tests or healthcare after suffering a sexual assault.
“It is sickening that people are burdened with not only the trauma of assault, but then the trauma of covering huge costs for tests and exams,” she told Guardian Australia.
“The sexual assault sector remains gravely underfunded in Queensland – in a wealthy state, with the government boasting of a $1.9bn surplus. Everyone should be able to access to care and support they need.”
The taskforce also called on Queensland Health to ensure rape kits are at least of consistent quality as those used in New South Wales and Victoria.
The Queensland kit includes six swabs – half of what is required to conduct a full forensic examination, the report said.
“The taskforce was deeply concerned to learn that the sexual assault investigation kits used in Queensland are inferior to those used in other jurisdictions,” the taskforce said.
“Not adhering to the highest standards with respect to DNA contamination risks inferior testing results or even miscarriages of justice.”