KWHB is now into our 20th year of providing health services to people in our region, with a proud history of improving health outcomes, facilities and services on behalf of our communities.

Our History

The Katherine West Health Board Aboriginal Corporation (KWHB) was incorporated under the Commonwealth Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act in February 1998. Its first CEO was Marion Scrymgour, who went on to become the Deputy Chief Minister in the Northern Territory government (2007-2009).

The KWHB was first established to implement the Katherine West Coordinated Care Trial, covering the communities west of Katherine to the NT/WA border.

The original concept for this Trial arose from a decision of a meeting in 1995 of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to call for proposals to establish a number of coordinated care trials around Australia. These trials were originally to focus on mainstream (that is, not specifically Aboriginal) populations and were characterised by the pooling of funds from State/Territory and Commonwealth Governments and the development of 'care plans' for individuals with multiple co-existing morbidities.

This concept was subsequently extended to Aboriginal populations, and four Aboriginal coordinated care trials were established around Australia in the late 1990's - in Katherine West (NT), the Tiwi Islands (NT), Wilcannia (NSW) and Perth/Bunbury (WA).

Prior to the Trial being established, all health services in the Katherine West region were delivered by Territory Health Services(THS), an arm of the Northern Territory Government, with little direct involvement or funding by the Commonwealth Government. Under the arrangements of the Trial, both Governments contributed funds to a 'pool' which was put under the control of an elected Board of Aboriginal community representatives, from throughout the region. THS contributed those funds which it would otherwise have spent on health services in the region.

The Commonwealth Government contributed funds based on a 'cashout' of the entitlements of the residents of the region to the Medical Benefits Scheme and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (calculated by reference to the average Australian utilisation rates of these schemes). The Commonwealth funding represented 'new money' being provided for health services in the region. In this way, KWHB did not just complement the role of Governments in the region, it actually took over the role of Governments.

The process of setting up the Board involved lengthy and detailed consultations with all communities of the region. The intensive and time consuming consultation process was a key factor in the Board gaining support from the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments.

Under the terms of the Legal Agreement governing the Trial, the KWHB could choose to either directly provide health services itself or purchase such services from any provider. For the first year or so of its existence the Board chose to purchase most health services from THS.

However, this proved unsatisfactory and from late 1999 the Board moved to take over direct management of both clinical and public health services at all communities in the region.

Over the period of the Trial, the level of Health Services increased dramatically. Examples of this were:

  • Residential GP services were provided for the first time ever.
  • Staff numbers in clinics were increased.
  • A mobile service was established to service the needs of pastoralists.
  • The number of Aboriginal health workers trained and employed increased markedly.
  • Community based health centres were set up.
  • The level of public health services provided, particularly environmental, health and nutrition, increased many fold over the levels provided before the Trial.

(Reference - Jirntangku Miyrta, Katherine West Coordinated Care Trial Final Report - Menzies School of Health Research)

Despite these improvements, funding inadequacies especially in relation to domestic violence, self harm, mental health and drug abuse remain.

Through intensive training and continual exposure to the administrative activities and details of the organization, elected Board members have over ten years, come to understand the complexities of managing a health board. It has not been easy. Board members have had to undergo training in finances utilising the "money story", a pictorial method of presenting accounts.

They have also had to familiarise themselves with the intricacies of government and its many demands. The Board emphasises a "community development" view of health, characterised by increased community participation and a many-faceted (holistic) view of health.

More information about the history of KWHB can be found in the publication Something Special: The history of the Katherine West Health Board (2001) published by AIATSIS.