• Danila Dilba will no longer take on new patients, due to increasing demand and underfunding. (Danila Dilba Health Service)Source: Danila Dilba Health Service
The decision means the Danila Dilba Health Service won't be able to provide culturally appropriate treatment to thousands of First Nations people from the Territory's remote communities.
Keira Jenkins

4 Jun 2021 - 1:29 PM  UPDATED 4 Jun 2021 - 1:43 PM

Danila Dilba Health Service in the Northern Territory will be turning away new patients from the start of July over a funding dispute with the Federal Government. 

The service will only be treating current patients and people who have a permanent residential address in the Greater Darwin region, meaning thousands of remote residents wont be able to receive care.

Danila Dilba CEO Olga Havnen told NITV News that a study done in 2016 found the service had been underfunded by about $4 million. 

She said there's been "significant growth in demand" from both Darwin locals and visitors from remote communities since then.

"We've been struggling with trying to manage demand for both visitors to town but also our own regular clients," Ms Havnen said.

"That of course has put enormous pressure and stress on all of the staff in the clinics, from the receptionists right through to the GPs.

Ms Havnen said it has become clear that almost 30 per cent of Danila Dilba's current clients are people who don't have a Darwin address.

"These are people that come from out bush, they come into town wanting to use our service, which is great but that means there are more regular clients not able to get an appointment," she said.

"In many cases people are having to wait two weeks and more."


Ms Havnen said it was disappointing that Danila Dilba had been forced to take this action, particularly during a pandemic that could potentially devastate remote communities in the Territory if there was an outbreak.

"This is a really distressing decision to take, particularly at the moment when we're trying to deal with this," she said.

"There's an increased level of concern by everybody about the potential risk of some level of spread of COVID. 

"If we're not capable of engaging and meeting the needs of those people who really need the service I worry about what the consequences of that would be."

While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased pressure for health services across the country, Ms Havnen said the movement of people between remote communities and Darwin is not new.

She said she's been flagging the urgency with health authorities at both state and federal levels for months. 

But so far, the requests for more adequate resourcing have been refused. 

"The numbers of visitors to town are significantly higher. We know that during the outbreak of the COVID pandemic we encouraged people to go home if it was safe for them to do so," she said.

"A lot of those people have now returned back into town. And in those bush communities there are high levels of overcrowding and very poor access to services.

"It's a failure of government, I think, on many levels, to address the needs of Aboriginal people in the Territory."

'Incredible pressure'

Danila Dilba will now refer new patients, or those without a permanent address in the Greater Darwin area, to bulk billing clinics and local hospitals. 

Ms Havnen said she is concerned about the impact this may have on the capitals' already overburdened health system.

"It's going to place incredible pressure on the hospitals, particularly the emergency departments at Palmerston and Darwin Hospital, where I know their staff already struggle," she said.

"At many of the bulk billing practices it's incredibly hard to even get an appointment. There's been a shortage of GPs across the country, particularly in regional and remote communities."

Ms Havnen has written to the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to warn him of the measures, and is hopeful that Danilia Dilba's situation will be reviewed. 

"At the end of the day I think what is required is a comprehensive review, not just about operations but also of the drivers - the factors - that are causing this pressure."  

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