People living in four remote Aboriginal communities across Central Australia are concerned about a lack of emergency services and health care close to home, with no medical professionals based in the communities for five days a week due to significant staff shortages.

The Northern Territory Health Department said health clinics at Engawala, Yuelamu, Epenarra (Wutunugurra) and Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) were all reduced to opening two days a week until nursing positions could be filled.

The four remote communities have a combined population of almost 800 people, according to the most recent census data.

In the event of an emergency, patients in each community can request help from a 24/7 health service, but medical professionals are at least 47 kilometres away, and at most, 120 kilometres.

‘We are worried’

Yuelamu local David McCormack is worried for his community.(

Supplied: Central Desert Regional Council


David McCormack has lived in Yuelamu his entire life and has seen the local health clinic struggling to stay open in recent years.

“People out here, they are really upset,” he said.

“We’ve got kids and family members worrying about it.

Epenarra local Rochelle Bonney said her community needed a “reliable” nurse.

“We need someone here if it’s a real emergency,” she said.

Service cuts a blow for ‘vulnerable communities’ 

Bill Yan is the member for Namatjira — an electorate around three times the size of Tasmania — which includes Engawala.

He said a young, first-time mother gave birth without a medical professional present, days after health services were wound back in the community.

“Lucky her grandmother knew what to do … mother and baby are doing great, and the community are really, really happy that there’s a child born on community,” said Mr Yan.

“But if there had’ve been complications, I’d hate to think what would’ve happened then.”

Mr Yan said the windback of health services in Engawala was a “blow” for the remote community.

Bill Yan
Member for Namatjira Bill Yan. (

ABC News: Xavier Martin


Member for Barkly Steve Edgington, said the needs of remote Territorians could not come at the expense of handling the pandemic.

“At a time when a massive internal restructure is taking place within NT Health, as well as a massive recruitment program to hire 400 staff to manage the expanded Howard Springs quarantine facility … we need to make sure the day-to-day healthcare needs of Territorians won’t suffer,” Mr Edgington said.

Pandemic partly to blame for health worker shortage

An NT Health spokesperson said Australia was experiencing a national shortage of nurses and surgeons.

They said a lack of nursing staff in remote Northern Territory communities was due in part to “a desire from some staff to move closer to their families and friends during the pandemic”, which had “considerably” reduced the interstate and international recruitment pool.

The spokesperson said NT Health was actively running recruitment advertising campaigns to fill the vacant nursing positions.

They said all affected communities had been informed of the changes to their health services.

Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles was contacted for comment.


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