National health network ‘needs local attention’ 


Differing regional health challenges facing the Northern Territory could be met with the development of truly “local” Local Hospital Networks (LHN) rather than a sole NT LHN as part of the Federal Government's national health reform, says a leading academic.

Professor John Wakerman is the Director of the Alice Springs based Centre for Remote Health (CRH), jointly operated by Charles Darwin and Flinders universities.

Professor Wakerman said Territory hospitals could be better administered by two local bodies representing central and northern Australia.

"Separate Local Hospital Networks for the Top End and one for Central Australia will account for the distinct nature and differences characterising Australia's regions and strong identification residents have with their locales," he said.

Referring to a discussion paper he co-authored for the Federal Government’s National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, Professor Wakerman said the characteristics of Central Australia warranted careful consideration of a separate network.

"There are different referral patterns to the Top End. Many patients from the very remote communities of the region are seeking services in Alice Springs and then travelling to Adelaide, not Darwin, for further treatment," he said.

"I recognise the need to streamline services, but putting the geographically vast Northern Territory under one network may not account for very different social, cultural and health differences. The tropical Top End and the desert people of the Centre both a require specific and dedicated focus."

Professor Wakerman said he encouraged community consultation, as flagged by the Federal and NT governments, to ensure the new system was responsive to the needs of its clients.

"This is an important issue for the future responsiveness of health services in the region. Many local health and community leaders are advocating for a Central Australian LHN and I strongly encourage our elected representatives to consider it,” he said.