A Darwin emergency department doctor has used a Territory Government press conference concerning New Year’s Eve safety awareness to slam the NT hospital system, saying it is stretched beyond capacity.
- Dr Didier Palmer said the NT Health Minister was “fully aware” of issues facing the system
- He said patients would be “double bunked” throughout New Year’s Eve
- Health Minister Natasha Fyles said work was underway to “free up” more beds
During the press conference, Royal Darwin Hospital emergency medicine director Didier Palmer said the hospital was “completely full”, and that he had “just come out of crisis meetings because we have no beds”.
The press conference was organised to spread safety messages ahead of New Year’s Eve, and was also attended by NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles.
With Ms Fyles standing beside him, Dr Palmer said the hospital was already short 25 beds ahead of New Year’s Eve and that they were expecting up to 90 more admissions that day.
“People will be double bunked in the emergency department,” he said.
Dr Didier Palmer said patients would be housed in hospital corridors over New Year’s Eve due to the overcrowding. (ABC News: Ian Redfearn)
“We always cope, which is something the system relies on.
“We are putting patients in corridors because we just don’t have enough space — that’s not only at Christmas, that’s right the way through the year.”
He said the solution was more beds.
“We need more beds, and anyone that says different is a fool — [it’s] as blunt as that.”
The pointed comments came during a joint emergency services press conference ahead of New Year’s Eve. (ABC News: Ian Redfearn)
Extra hospital not enough
Dr Palmer is also the emergency director at the Palmerston Regional Hospital.
He said the Palmerston Regional Hospital, opened in 2018, had not filled gaps in the system and had instead “created more demand”.
“[The Palmerston Emergency Department] is full all the time,” he said.
Overcrowding at Royal Darwin Hospital has previously reached crisis levels. (Supplied: Jack Bullen)
The $206 million hospital on the outskirts of Darwin was opened in part to support Royal Darwin Hospital.
“It’s a different sort of hospital — it’s a standalone emergency department with some low-acuity wards,” Dr Palmer said.
“We are we trying to change all these things, reconfigure all these things, but in fact we are worse off this year than we were last year.
“There are certainly plans to improve the number of beds, and the Minister is fully aware of that and over that issue as well.”
No simple solution: Fyles
Ms Fyles said the Territory Government acknowledged the problem and said the NT’s health system was not like others in Australia.
“Royal Darwin Hospital and the Palmerston Regional Hospital are very unique: we don’t have other facilities,” she said.
“It’s not as simple as putting on a bed, there needs to be the flow-through,” Ms Fyles said. (ABC News: Ian Redfearn)
“There is work underway with the Health Department and Top End Health Service around what we can do to free up the emergency department to have that flow-through of beds available.
“We certainly will continue that work and I’ll be taking that to my cabinet colleagues in the coming months.”
Ms Fyles added that more needed to be done than simply adding extra beds into the system.
“It’s not as simple as putting on a bed. There needs to be the flow-through, the staff to support those beds,” she said.
Ms Fyles said that better long-term clinical planning, more infrastructure, and more staff funding were essential to fixing the overburdened system.
“We can’t simply shift patients at a certain acuity level out to Palmerston Hospital,” she said.
“Palmerston Hospital has opened as expected and is now running at full capacity.”