In 1994 the Commonwealth funded studies to establish and develop Aboriginal health services.
One such study was undertaken in 1995 at Maningrida, Northern Territory: to identify the health-service needs of the population and consider community management structures; to identify Northern Territory expenditure for primary health care; and to provide a three-to five–year development budget. Approximately 2100 Aboriginal residents in the region used the service, including 750 living on 24 outstations within 75 km. Nearly 40 per cent were aged under 15 years. Childhood morbidity was high, with children under two averaging 1.4 hospital admissions per year. The age pyramid reflected premature adult mortality from the third decade of life.
Service providers identified inadequate staffing and infrastructure as barriers to service development. Community consultations emphasised the need for resident doctors, improved outstation services and aged and respite care, local training for Aboriginal health workers and housing for staff. These developments would require per capita primary health care expenditure ($872) to be doubled. Aboriginal people in remote areas are disadvantaged through Commonwealth Grants Commission funding formulae and lack of Medicare access. As the sole funding source, the Northern Territory spends over $1.83 million per year providing health services at Maningrida. Additionally, the study proposed that the Commonwealth spend $1.96 million a year over five years on staffing and infrastructure. Local Aboriginal organisations also agreed to allocate resources for health service development. Ineffective implementation, lack of clarification of government responsibilities and funding shortfalls remain barriers to developing remote Aboriginal health services. (Aust N Z IPublic Health 1998; 22: 133–9)