Health Staff Shortages Cause Medical Clinic Closures in the Northern Territory, Australia

By Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Steve Milne
December 21, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021

Just as the Northern Territory borders open and cases of COVID-19 grow to 123, a number of Territory clinics will be closing down for the Christmas holiday period.

In a social media post on Monday evening, Country Liberal Party (CLP) Shadow Health Minister Bill Yan said that “ongoing staff shortages and crippling pressure on the Territory’s health system” is negatively impacting Territorians in remote areas and that some clinics are closing their doors for the Christmas holidays.

He also highlighted that the timing is not good, considering borders have just been opened up to interstate travellers.

“As well as heaping additional stress on residents, this also puts additional pressure on healthcare providers in Tennant Creek and Alice Springs,” he said, referring to the fact that with multiple clinic closures, people will need to travel to larger towns such as Tenant Creek and Alice Springs to seek health care.

Yan said that just 37 percent of remote communities are fully vaccinated in the Barkly region, which makes up the mid-eastern portion of the Northern Territory. Meanwhile, Canteen Creek in the Southern Barkly has a double vaccinated rate of just 26 percent.

However, this is a region in which several remote clinics will close for Christmas,

“So why is the Gunner Government shutting down an essential health service in these communities?” he said.

Yan also speculated that the NT Health Minister is overwhelmed with the management of the Howard Springs quarantine facility, along with the day to day needs of the Territory, and that Territorians are suffering as a result.

“The Gunner Government needs to hand Howard Springs back to the Federal Government so it can focus on the delivery of critical health services to Territorians,” he said.

“The CLP supports ongoing permanent healthcare positions, rather than fixed-term contracts so that these critical staff shortages can be filled and certainty provided to interstate health professionals looking to relocate to the Territory.”

Yan said that closing health clinics and putting extra pressure on the health system as borders reopen is “irresponsible, dangerous and just not good enough.”

Meanwhile, at a press conference on Tuesday, Health Minister Natasha Fyles responded to previous comments from the Leader of the Opposition, Lia Finocchiaro, who said the Government has no idea how many staff shortages there are at hospitals, and the CLP is concerned that the 3,500 travellers coming into the Territory each day over the holidays will render the health system unable to cope.

“If you want to know who has no idea, it’s the Leader of the Opposition. She would have opened our borders last year in June, she would have given away our vaccines, so when it comes to credibility, the CLP has absolutely none in the health space,” Fyles said.

She added that the Government has continued to listen to health advice and have put a number of public health measures in place to keep the community safe.

“As we step forward into the new normal, as we go from a pandemic to an endemic, there will certainly be challenges, but it’s not that we’re just throwing open our borders like the CLP would have done,” she said.

“We’ve got vaccination; we’ve got people coming in and having to follow a testing regime.”

She said that the Government had managed the pandemic response well right across the Territory, including in the vulnerable communities, and that the Territory has some of the highest vaccination rates in Australia in some areas.

She acknowledged that some locations had low vaccination rates, but they are working on that and need people to come forward.

Fyles also said the Territory is entering a new phase and can’t stay cut off forever, that people need to be able to travel, and that the public health measures in place will keep people safe as they do so.

When asked about staff shortages, Fyles said there are 80 remote health care clinics and six hospitals in the Territory.

“We’ve always acknowledged that staffing is a challenge, and we’ve got a number of measures in place to grow our own staff, to support staff,” she said.

“But I can absolutely assure Territorians that throughout the pandemic, we’ve kept them safe and will continue to do so over the coming weeks and months.”

Steve Milne