Thousands of Aboriginal people from the Northern Territory’s remote communities will no longer be eligible for culturally appropriate treatment at Darwin’s largest Aboriginal controlled health service from July.
- Darwin’s major Aboriginal-controlled health service is closing its books to new clients
- Remote Indigenous Territorians could be turned to emergency departments and GP clinics instead
- The federal health minister insists the service is receiving adequate funding
Danila Dilba Health Service announced on Thursday it would no longer be able to provide primary health care to about 3,000 Aboriginal visitors and transients at its eight clinics across Darwin because of the “failure of the Commonwealth to take our concerns about funding seriously”.
Olga Havnen, the organisation’s chief executive officer, told Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt “it is very disappointing to be forced to take this action, particularly at a time when the Northern Territory remains vulnerable to an outbreak of COVID-19 which would devastate Aboriginal communities in our region”.
For years, Danila Dilba’s clinics have provided primary health care, including chronic disease management and immunisation for Aboriginal visitors to Darwin, many of whom are regarded as the Territory’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Ms Havnen told Mr Hunt in a letter the organisation has been forced to close its books for new clients with “extreme reluctance”.
“We are very concerned about the potential impact on the health and wellbeing of the Aboriginal community and visitors from remote communities to Darwin,” she wrote.
Ms Havnen said effective immediately Danila Dilba will refer remote visitors and transient clients to other health care providers including the emergency departments of the Royal Darwin and Palmerston hospitals and bulk billing clinics, which are already under immense strain.
“Until our situation is reviewed and additional resources provided in a way that reflects the actual service need amongst both the resident and transient populations of Greater Darwin, Danila Dilba Health Service will only be able to service the clients who are permanent residents and current clients,” she said.
In a statement to the ABC, Mr Hunt said the government was committed to supporting Aboriginal health services and working to close the gap in health care.
He said Danila Dilba received $9.6 million in funding for 2020-21 as part of a three-year agreement that included annual indexation.
Mr Hunt said the organisation also had approval to bill Medicare for services provided to its clients, which delivered $4.2 million in 2019-20.
But Ms Havnen told staff in an e-mail she and Danila Dilba’s board have been working since 2016 to convince governments the organisation needs extra funding.
“We wish we could provide services for everyone. But without additional funding we can’t continue to take on more clients,” she said.
From 1 July, Danila Dilba will only treat people of Aboriginal and Torres Islander descent who live in the Greater Darwin region.
People who don’t live in the Greater Darwin region will also not be eligible for free medicines.
Danila Dilba’s vaccine clinics will remain open to new clients to get the COVID-19 vaccine but not for further healthcare.
Ms Havnen said her organisation will continue to monitor the situation and “if in the future we are able to do so, we will open back up to new clients.”
“This will largely depend on available funding and adequate staffing levels,” she said.