Colin Feekery, the acting deputy director of medical services at Royal Darwin and Palmerston Hospitals, has apologised after sending a letter to junior medical officers warning them that if they fail to complete a contract they will not be hired again for at least a year.
The letter was sent days after the NT government called its fourth “code yellow” emergency of the year at Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH), due to the hospital reaching its capacity.
“I have instructed our Medical Services Unit and our locum recruitment service, that if a doctor fails to complete a contract, this is to be recorded on their Human Resources file,” Dr Feekery wrote.
The letter drew a scathing response from senior doctors, who accused NT Health of damaging workforce morale during a time of crisis.
“To be clear, we believe your letter has caused harm to both our colleagues and the reputation of the organisation,” read the letter sent on Sunday.
It was signed by the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation NT (ASMOF NT), the Australian Medical Association NT and the federal AMA Council for Doctors-in-Training.
The letter also called for a public meeting with hospital executives, including RDH emergency medicine director Dr Didier Palmer, so they could hear the concerns of junior doctors.
That meeting happened on Wednesday, attended by about 100 junior doctors, during which Dr Feekery retracted his letter.
‘Excellent first step’ towards improving working conditions
ASMOF NT has welcomed the apology and said hospital executives have agreed to meet further with junior doctors to understand and rectify issues in the hospital.
“It was reassuring to see (Dr) Palmer engage with frontline doctors and recognise that improvements need to be made,” ASMOF NT president Dr Tom Fowles said.
“We consider this an excellent first step.”
ASMOF NT said hospital executives had acknowledged parts of the health service did not provide adequate training opportunities, needed to improve rostering practices and leave availability, and must fix problems with the recruitment process for new doctors.
Overworked and understaffed
Along with emergency doctors, the nurses’ union and the Australian Medical Association have also raised concerns about the rolling capacity crises.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation NT (ANMF NT) branch secretary Cath Hatcher said nurses were at “crisis point” and had “had enough”.
There have been reports of staff shortages as well as nurses working extended periods of overtime.
As well as staff shortages, the NT government has blamed the capacity pressures on the numbers of beds needed for aged care, disability, and mental health patients without alternative accommodation options.
The NT government has previously said it is working on long-term solutions, which are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, NT Health has awarded a tender to health consultancy firm, Australis Health Advisory, to review Palmerston Regional Hospital (PRH) in response to staff shortages in its emergency department.
“This work is being undertaken to ensure the hospital operates sustainably, while continuing to provide patient-centred care and positive health outcomes for the community,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.
“PRH continues to provide all services as normal, and will manage staffing challenges to make sure quality care is provided to all Territorians.”