THE Northern Territory health department has been accused of institutionalised racism after a 78-year-old indigenous patient died when he was left alone at a remote airstrip.
The Aboriginal elder was flown home to Kalkaringi about 600km south of Darwin on August 21 after being treated at the Katherine hospital.
He had no escort on the chartered flight and there was no-one to meet him when he arrived.
His body was found in bushland near the airstrip one week later after police abandoned their search.
The NT Government and coroner have launched investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death, while the man's niece, Josie Crawshaw-Guy, has accused the health department of racism.
“Too much of this institutional racism has been happening,” she said.
“It is hard-core, systemic racism.”
Her uncle was almost blind and could not walk unaided, she said.
“I can't begin to imagine how terrifying it must have been for him.”
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for a royal commission into the state of Aboriginal healthcare in the territory.
AMA NT President Paul Bauert said institutionalised racism is partly responsible for poor healthcare in remote communities and deaths resulting from shoddy paperwork and organisation are just the tip of the iceberg.
This isn't an example of "hard-core, systemic racism" at all. It's an example of utter organisational incompetence.
I had a great deal of experience with numerous remote clinics in both the N.T. and Queensland and if there was a factor common to all of them, it was the inability of the people running those clinics to organise the simplest of tasks in a "failsafe" manner.
Light aircraft form the lifeline of the tiny communities, yet in only one of them did I see an arrangement whereby the pilot could communicate directly with clinic staff. And that single exception was a bad joke--the person on the ground with the radio wasn't a health worker and was a notorious drunk.
One one occasion an expensive medevac flight circled the strip for over an hour and was on the verge of returning to base without picking up the patient because someone (the drunk) had forgotten to illuminate the windsock. And the pilot had no way to let the ambulance and nurses waiting on the strip know what the problem was.
Again and again I saw flights diverted, late flights and flights cancelled without the knowledge of the clinic staff. Aircraft carrying patients due to land and no vehicle available to pick them up.
Kalkaringi clinic has about four Aboriginal health workers, all of whom can drive and two registered nurses, one of them on call at all times. The airstrip is about ten minute's drive from the clinic.
Either somebody forgot to inform the clinic that a patient was arriving, someone at the clinic forgot to pick him up or Katherine hospital failed to notify the clinic that he was on the aircraft.
And of course, the pilot couldn't communicate directly with the clinic.
Is it beyond the wit of clinic staff and N.T. Health to supply radios and to use them?
It would seem so.