Objective: To identify areas of relative need and inform future planning of health workforce and health services in discrete Indigenous communities.

Method: Descriptive analysis of relevant variables from the 1999 Community Housing and Infrastructure Needs Survey (CHINS), including all discrete Indigenous communities in Australia.

Results: Almost 90% of the Indigenous population of the Northern Territory live in discrete communities. The corresponding figure for Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia is around 25%, for New South Wales 8% and Victoria 1%. Just over 4,000 people (5% of the population surveyed) live 100 kilometres or more from the nearest community health centre and almost 60,000 (54%) live 100 kilometres or more from the nearest hospital. Approximately 4,000 Indigenous people (6% of population surveyed) have little or no access to a registered nurse or a doctor in their community. Access to Indigenous health workers is also limited, with more than 26,000 people (40%) having almost no access to a male Indigenous health worker and about 10,400 (16%) having almost no access to a female Indigenous health worker. More than 13,000 people (20%) have no access to a dentist and many thousands (30–50%) have no access to allied health or mental health care workers. An obstetrician or ENT/respiratory physician never visited the communities of almost 40,000 people (55% and 59%, respectively) and about 24,000 people (36%) have no access to an ophthalmologist.

Conclusion: CHINS data provide a unique source of information to monitor the status of health services and the workforce in discrete Indigenous communities.