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Northern Territory rural and remote health services

From the arid centre to the tropical north, the Northern Territory (NT) is a unique place in which to live, work or travel. Much of the state is very remote, so health services are not always readily available. By planning ahead, you can be prepared for when you need help.

A snapshot of the Northern Territory

The population of the NT is a little over 200,000. Outside Darwin and the satellite city of Palmerston, most of the NT is considered remote or very remote, with many people living on cattle stations, in mining towns or in Aboriginal communities. Small centres, such as Alice Springs, provide services to surrounding communities.

About a quarter of NT residents are Aboriginal people who live in Darwin and regional centres, or in the hundreds of small Aboriginal communities and homelands. On average, the health of Aboriginal people is worse than that of non-Aboriginal NT residents, with much higher rates of diabetes, kidney disease, sexually transmitted diseases, and drug and alcohol abuse.

What types of health services are available?

There are major public teaching hospitals in Darwin and Alice Springs, and smaller public hospitals in Nhulunbuy (also referred to as Gove), Katherine and Tennant Creek.

Many communities don't have easy access to hospitals or doctors. Services are delivered through health clinics and primary health care sites based in a number of regional and remote areas of the NT.

Specialist outreach services are provided to remote NT residents through visiting specialists, outpatient care at hospitals, and telehealth consultations.

Remote area nurses play a key role in delivering healthcare in the NT, as do nurse practitioners, who are trained to undertake diagnosis, prescribe medication and provide emergency care.

Careflight operates a 24-hour emergency flight service for the Top End. Emergency flights for Central Australia are provided by St John Ambulance and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The Royal Flying Doctor Service also provides telehealth and medical chests and outreach services to Central Australia.

Telehealth and eHealth

Regional hospitals are important but often lack specialists. Telehealth enables patients and health practitioners in remote areas to connect with specialist services in major centres through audio and video conferencing.

eHealth uses technology to keep a secure online record of health information. My eHealth Record helps improve communication with and between your doctor, health services, specialists and hospitals.

Health advice online and over the phone

Online health information can be really helpful, but it's important to use reputable sources. Look for a site with HON (Health On the Net Foundation) certification.

You can speak to a registered nurse over the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at Healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

Mental health and wellbeing

People who live and work in rural and remote areas can experience greater pressures than those in urban areas and sometimes may need extra support. These pressures include loneliness and isolation. There are services available for Central Australia and the Top End to help you maintain good mental health.

In addition to the NT Mental Health Line (1800 682 288), other 24-hour mental health hotlines are available.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

Aboriginal health workers and practitioners support people with clinical care and referrals, as well as providing health education. City hospitals have Aboriginal liaison workers to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait patients while in hospital.

Culturally appropriate services are available through Aboriginal Medical Services.

Travelling to medical and health services

Having to leave home to receive medical services can be stressful and expensive, but you might be eligible for travel assistance.

Being well prepared for hospital admission and discharge is essential for people living in remote areas. If you need help, talk to your referring health service, Aboriginal health worker or hospital.

After hours and emergency medical assistance

  • In a medical emergency, immediately dial triple zero (000).
  • Hospitals provide urgent after-hours care in some regions.
  • For non-emergency health advice and information, you can call healthdirect to speak to a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, on 1800 022 222.

Further information

Last reviewed: April 2017

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