NT budget targets hospital upgrades

4 minute read

Health scored the lion’s share of budget funding, with the Territory’s ageing infrastructure getting a boost.

Health is the biggest winner in the Northern Territory budget 2023, which was passed by parliament this week.

For the first time since the 2016 Budget, the government has projected a fiscal balance surplus of $67m within the three-year forward estimates period.  

This will meet its key objective of returning the budget to balance, two years ahead of the Fiscal Strategy panel’s 2028-29 target. The budget also expects a net operating surplus from 2024-25 onwards.

The government has promised a whopping $2.04bn for health, followed by public order and safety ($1.1bn); education ($1.37bn), transport ($1.05bn), housing and community amenities ($1.01bn), social protection ($721m), general public services ($647m), economic affairs ($635m), recreation, culture, and religion ($241m), and environmental protection ($180m).

Treasurer Eva Lawler said the territory’s state final demand (SFD) had grown by 18% since 2019, significantly higher than any other Australian jurisdiction.

In her budget speech, Ms Lawler said the big spend in health included “fundamental but critical upgrades to the Alice, Katherine, Gove and Darwin hospitals, with $37.3m to improve efficiencies in sterilisation equipment to ensure compliance with enhanced national standards, and to protect lives”.

“We are funding $3m per year over three years from 2023-24 to replace ageing medical equipment including CT, diagnostic ultrasound, MRI and X-ray equipment, theatre lights and acute patient monitors.

“This is the necessary work of responsible government, as is the provision of $20m to construct a new — and much needed — health centre at Gunbalanya, which includes consulting rooms, emergency bays, dental, X-ray and renal facilities, and a morgue.

“We are investing $48.7 million for upgrades at Royal Darwin Hospital, including the construction of a new 32-bed modular multipurpose ward which will allow for the rapid deployment of additional beds during surges, while increasing overall capacity. Upgrades to forensic, mortuary, pathology and bereavement facilities also form part of important upgrades to RDH.”

The budget’s health, education and social investment fact sheet makes no mention of any allocations for the specific purposes of digital health.

However, it does refer to a $1m pledge “to undertake planning for future health service capacity and develop a plan for future use of territory hospitals and other major health facilities to deliver contemporary health care for Territorians”.

Budget papers for the territory’s Department of Corporate and Digital Development reveal a new $5m allocation for strengthening cybersecurity, and funding for existing initiatives including:

  • $40.5m for the Acacia program (on behalf of the Department of Health), a territory-wide, electronic patient record that integrates multiple systems used in NT Health and will replace current aging clinical systems.
  • $5.8m for the Territory Services digitisation project.
  • $5.6m for e-Medication (on behalf of the DoH).

Ms Lawler also told parliament that the government stood “firmly committed in our efforts to reduce the levels of domestic, family and sexual violence” (DFSV).

The budget delivers $20m in additional funding across the next two years with a focus on housing initiatives, perpetrator programs, responding to the needs of children and young people who experience DFSV, providing counselling and healing for women prisoners, specialist DFSV prosecution and witness support.

There will also be an additional $5m per year in the coming two years for crisis intervention, counselling and parenting programs. This includes providing cultural engagement camps for Central Australia and for additional youth outreach and re-engagement officers.

“We know we must tackle this challenge from every possible angle,” Ms Lawler said.

“And that means supporting those who inflict violence to change their behaviours, to reduce the impacts on women and children … We want to rehabilitate offenders and get them into jobs, training and education — not back in prison.”

For more information on the budget see here

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