NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said NT Health was still working on a way to keep the clinics open. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) NT Branch is calling on the NT Health Department to urgently decide whether it will push ahead with plans to shut four health clinics in remote Indigenous communities.
- From mid-December, the Central Australia Health Service plans to close clinics in at least four communities
- The Yuelamu Health Centre will remain shut for three weeks and the rest will keep their doors closed indefinitely
- All four should re-open in early 2020
Last month, the ABC revealed Central Australia Health Service planned to close health clinics in Alcoota, Epenarra, Haasts Bluff and Yuelamu — with a combined population of about 770 — from mid-December.
The forced closure has been flung into the national spotlight following the death of Kumanjayi Walker in Yuendumu, 266 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.
Mr Walker was shot by NT Police at 7:15pm on November 9, but there were no nurses in Yuendumu because they had been evacuated over safety concerns related to break-ins.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles said NT Health was still working on a way to keep the four clinics open over Christmas, but it could be weeks away before a plan is announced.
But ANMF NT acting branch secretary Cath Hatcher wants a concrete answer from NT Health before next Friday.
Ms Hatcher said Aboriginal people who lived in remote NT communities needed to feel safe and supported and NT Health should “put their concerns about the possible closure or not to rest ASAP”.
“It’s important for the Department of Health to make a decision soon for the Aboriginal people of these communities, due to the unsettling times at the moment due to Yuendumu’s recent death,” she said.
“It is about the nurses and midwives too, but in this case, the Aboriginal people of all communities come first, they should have 24-hour access to health clinics 365 days a year for their people — we do in the smaller/bigger towns, why not remote areas too?”
Ms Hatcher said nurses living in remote communities also deserved to know what was happening.
“They would want to know whether they would be able to go home to their families, book flights, accommodation — it’s a worrying time for all,” she said.
‘We’re working very hard,’ Minister says
Ms Fyles said the NT Government ran 50 health clinics over 1.4 million square kilometres, and it was difficult to staff remote clinics over Christmas and New Year.
“It’s a complex issue,” she said.
“We’re working very hard — and we always work very hard — to keep clinics open.
“We want to ensure that those remote communities have access to primary healthcare services, and we need to make sure that staffing is provided in a safe environment.”
Nurses in the remote community of Yuendumu in Central Australia may be expected to provide health care for residents in Yuelamu if its clinic closes mid-December. (ABC News: Hamish Harty)
But finding the answer to NT Health’s staffing issues would not happen overnight, Ms Fyles said.
“We have established a taskforce, led by the chief nurse to look at this,” she said.
“These decisions will be made from a clinical perspective.
“I’m confident in the next couple of weeks those final updates will be made.”
Independent Member for Stuart Scott McConnell was happy to hear Ms Fyles was taking the community’s concerns seriously but was not convinced the NT Government would find a way to keep the clinics open.
“You can clearly see we need those clinics open,” he said.
“I’m heartened by this good news, and I hope this is true.
“I’m not confident that they are going to keep these clinics.”
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said delivering health care in remote communities was a challenge, but people in communities deserved equal access to care.
“In a country such as Australia with the resources at hand, with the level of welfare and associated outcomes that we can expect of this country you would have thought that during any part of the year that access to health care remains a fundamental right and expectation of all the entire Australian population,” he said.
Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone said across Australia, more work was needed to address racism and unconscious bias in every government agency. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
Dr Bartone said the death of Mr Walker, 19, in Yuendumu was tragic and highlighted the difficulty of delivering health services in remote areas.
“The known circumstances of Mr Walker’s death have impacted around the nation,” he said.
“Sadly, the circumstances are all too familiar.
“It appears that at the time of Mr Walker’s death, health services were not immediately available in Yuendumu, illustrating the practical challenge of health service delivery in remote communities.”
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