Abstract: One of the stated aims of Australia's health care system is to achieve equity of access to health care according to need for all Australians, with the ultimate goal of moving toward statistical equality of good health for all. This paper examines how, using routinely collected population health data, we might answer the question of whether access to hospital care for Aborigines in the Northern Territory (NT) improved in relation to access for non-Aborigines during the period 1979 to 1988. Some of the advantages and shortfalls of this approach are discussed and an ‘index of access’ is postulated. This index is shown to be moving towards 1 during the period, suggesting that access to hospitals has improved for Aborigines compared with non-Aborigines, but that a substantial shortfall still exists. While this index can be useful for measuring progress toward achieving the horizontal equity goal of equal access for equal need, the more difficult task of defining and measuring progress toward vertical equity goals with respect to the persistent and gross inequalities in health status between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians deserves priority.