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NT minister says Darwin region has enough hospital beds

Photo: Demand for NT hospital beds 'manageable'
The NT chief minister says the Darwin region has enough hospital beds despite the emergency department head claiming there was a shortfall over Christmas.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner has defended the Northern Territory health system after one of its most senior doctors said it was in a crisis due to a hospital bed shortage.

The head of Royal Darwin Hospital's emergency department, Didier Palmer, used a government press conference on New Year's Eve to criticise the hospital system, saying he had been in crisis meetings that day because it was "underbedded".

""We need more beds, and anyone that says different is a fool -- it's as blunt as that," he said.
Dr Palmer, who made the critical comments with Health Minister Natasha Fyles standing behind him, said the hospital was short 25 beds on New Year's Eve and they were expecting up to 90 more admissions that day.

Mr Gunner said he believed the problem was "manageable".

"We have put additional money into the hospital to make sure we can manage our health needs in the Northern Territory as well as we can," he told reporters on Monday.

"What changes every day is the amount of demand in that front room, that front door of the ER."

When asked if Darwin hospital had enough beds, he said: "My understanding is at the moment, it does fluctuate, it was very tight going into Christmas and New Year's".

Health is the most expensive part of the territory government's budget, representing well in excess of 20 per cent.

Yet health outcomes and life expectancy for indigenous people - 25 per cent of the population - is far worse than for non-indigenous Territorians.

Despite a second hospital opening at Palmerston in 2018, Dr Palmer said it had just created more pressure and demand on staff shared between the two hospitals.

The 116-bed, $206 million second hospital has been criticised by Australian Medical Association NT president Dr Robert Parker as a "total waste of money".

Mr Gunner said Palmerston Hospital had added to the care available in the region. The second hospital made it easier for people to present - and more people were presenting.

"Which is a good thing, if you don't treat people early those conditions often worsen," he said.

"So by having Palmerston hospital there and seeing people more likely now to go and seek the health care they need, that will have a long term benefit for the Territory."

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