The Australian Medical Association’s Northern Territory branch is calling on the NT government to declare a “Code Brown” alert for every public hospital in the Territory.
- Two major health worker unions want the NT government to issue a Code Brown emergency for the health system
- They say the response would relieve the pressures on exhausted health workers and prevent industrial action
- The Health Minister says whether to declare such an alert is an “operational matter” for the Health Department
A Code Brown alert is the highest-level emergency response that can be declared in an Australian public hospital.
AMA NT president Dr Robert Parker said the Northern Territory’s health system was at crisis point amid the Omicron COVID-19 outbreak, as case numbers and hospital admissions in the Territory remained high.
“A number of senior clinicians in the [Royal Darwin] Hospital feel that, given the pressure on the system at the moment,” he said.
“The politicians really do need to recognise that through a formal Code Brown.”
The Territory would be just the second jurisdiction in Australia to call a Code Brown after Victoria did so in January.
If enacted, hospitals can redeploy workers to areas of greatest need, postpone leave to boost staffing numbers, and redistribute resources to ensure critical patients are prioritised.
During a Code Brown, category two and three elective surgeries are postponed, however these procedures have been paused since February 4 in the Northern Territory.
Dr Parker said the declaration from the government would send a message they were listening to exhausted health workers and prevent industrial action.
“We’re hoping that formal recognition of the government by this will help prevent issues such as the nurses strike in New South Wales,” he said.
Nurses’ union backs emergency action
Australian Nursing and Midwives Federation NT Branch secretary Cath Hatcher said her members would support calls for a Code Brown.
“[Nurses are] consistently telling us they are not coping,” she said.
Ms Hatcher said industrial action was currently not being considered despite frustration among nurses.
“That’s something that the AMA and the nurses would try and avoid at all costs,” she said.
Opposition says government should heed alert calls
On Tuesday, the CLP Opposition asked several questions of the government about its handling of the pandemic.
Opposition health spokesman Bill Yan said the government needed to listen to frontline workers calling for the Code Brown alert.
“They’re the best-placed people who have the knowledge of what’s taking place and the government should be listening to them,” he said.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles said in a statement: “No Code Brown declaration has been made. Any such decision would be an operational matter for the Department of Health.”
“NT Health will continue to work with hospitals to manage pressures,” she said.
“Our health staff work tremendously hard under increasing pressure during a global pandemic, and we acknowledge this.”