An Indigenous person living with disability in a remote Northern Territory community had to wait two years for a wheelchair, a royal commission has been told.

A report into National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) performance at Ngukurr, 635km from Darwin, found mainstream models of delivery were not working, and wouldn’t in other remote areas.

More than 80 per cent of NDIS participants from Ngukurr didn’t know who their support coordinator was, and only three of 24 participants interviewed knew about the NDIS.

The disability royal commission has this week examined service barriers faced by First Nations people in remote and very remote communities.

“Some of the stories told in the Ngukurr report suggest … somebody having to wait two years for a wheelchair,” counsel assisting the inquiry, Patrick Griffin SC, said on Friday.

Scott McNaughton, delivery manager at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which implements the scheme, said the wait time was not good enough.

Mr Naughton said there has been a “lot of work” since the report and the process for acquiring wheelchairs has been streamlined.

He acknowledged the report concluded the mainstream NDIS delivery model was not working at Ngukurr and will not work in other remote areas.

Mr Naughton said an ongoing review of remote and very remote strategies has found communications need to be tailored to meet the needs of First Nations people.

“There’s a lot more work to be done,” he said.

“Sometimes our policies and guidelines and practices seem to fit Sydney or Melbourne but may not fit Nhulunbuy or Galiwinku.

“We need to spend more time communicating and listening to communities.”

All six support coordinators for Ngukurr live in either Darwin or Katherine, 321km away, the inquiry was told.

Mr McNaughton said it was difficult to get NDIS planners to live in remote areas, citing high rental prices in Broome and a two-year recruiting struggle to fill a role in the Fitzroy River region.

“Ideally we would like to have a much better national presence across multiple locations,” he said.

He said the NDIA was now taking a whole-of-community service approach in Ngukurr, which has a population of about 1000.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was established in 2019 and will deliver a final report to the federal government by September 2023. 

Hearings in Alice Springs this week have been told the NDIS has failed Indigenous people in remote areas and support was better under earlier models.