Public Hospital Report Card 2024

Northern Territory

AMA NT President’s Introduction

Dr Robert Parker

President, AMA NT

In 2019, I wrote a letter to then Federal health Minister Hunt pointing out that from Productivity Commission data, NT Hospitals were two to three times as busy as hospitals in other Australian States and Territories.

There has also been recent publicity that Emergency Departments in the NT have twice the activity level of other hospitals in Australia. This also reflects unique characteristics of health issues in the NT with a significant proportion (30%) of the Territory’s population being Indigenous with a significant number of the Indigenous population living in remote and rural areas and suffering from a high burden of chronic disease. This has, in the main, to be serviced by Royal Darwin Palmerston and Alice Springs Hospitals, adding to their activity level.

The pressure on NT hospitals has led to repeated “Code Yellow” crisis situations at Royal Darwin and Palmerston Hospitals and the reallocation of elective surgical waiting lists to help cope with the crisis In the context of the above, the results of the most recent AMA Hospital data for the NT are not unexpected but also pleasantly surprising in some respects.

The median time for elective surgery appears to be the best in Australia whilst the percentage of Category 2 elective surgery patients admitted within the recommended time is equivalent to most other states and territories, although there has been a significant reduction in pre covid performance in this regard. It is also pleasing to see that the NT has improved its performance in respect to the percentage of emergency department visits completed within 4 hours.

Key Takeaways

Despite a large fall in the proportion of urgent ED patients being seen within 30 minutes or less, the Northern Territory saw the most improvements by national comparisons in the 2024 Public Hospital Report Card. The Territory saw improvements in three of four metrics and had the best “four-hour rule” and median surgery waiting times. ​

Table 1: NT performance 2022-23 compared to the previous year

Cat 3 ED on time 4 Hour Rule Median Surgery wait Cat 2 Surgery wait
✔️ ✔️ ✔️

Table 2: NT performance 2022-23 compared to national average (below or above)

Cat 3 ED on time 4 Hour Rule Median Surgery wait Cat 2 Surgery wait

Emergency department performance - Northern Territory

The Northern Territory performed equal best in the “four-hour rule”, with 2022-23 figures bouncing back towards the territory’s long-term average. The proportion of Category 3 patients being seen within the recommended time of 30 minutes, however, is far below the national average at only 44 per cent.

Figure 3: Percentage of Category 3 (urgent) ED patients seen within the recommended time of under 30 minutes – NT​

Figure 4: Percentage of ED visits completed in four hours or less - NT​

Planned surgery performance - Northern Territory

The Northern Territory is again a relatively strong performer when it comes to planned surgery wait times. The Northern Territory has maintained lower median wait times for public planned surgery than they had between 2005 and 2014, with a nation leading 29 days representing a 1-day improvement from last year’s figure. The territory sits right on the national average of Category 2 patients admitted within the recommended time, a slight improvement to 62 per cent.​

Figure 5: Median waiting time for planned surgery (days) - NT​

Figure 6: Percentage of Category 2 planned surgery patients admitted within the recommended (90 days) - NT​

Public hospital expenditure – Nortern Territory

Figure 7: Per person average annual per cent increase in public hospital funding by government source (constant prices) - NT​

2011-12 to 2021-22 2011-12 to 2016-17 2016-17 to 2021-22
Commonwealth 3.77% 2.47% 4.44%
Northern Territory Government 1.52% -1.73% 4.61%

Figure 8: Public hospital funding, per person, by government source (constant prices) - NT​

At $2931 of public hospital spending by the Northern Territory government per person, the territory invests the most in its public hospital system per person.