Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme
|About this Item||Subjects||Rural Health; Ambulances; Hospitals
||Speakers||Page Mr Donald
||Business||Private Members Statements
Mr DONALD PAGE (Ballina—Deputy Leader of The Nationals) [5.29 p.m.]: I wish to bring to Parliament's attention the urgent need for an extension of the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme [IPTAAS] in New South Wales to allow more patients to access it. Currently, to qualify for financial assistance in New South Wales, patients must travel in excess of 200 kilometres one way for treatment, whereas in South Australia and Victoria the distance is 100 kilometres and in Queensland it is 50 kilometres. The New South Wales distance criteria are the toughest in Australia. More than 6,000 signatures have been presented to this Parliament protesting the stringency of the current regime. People in my electorate feel the impact of the 200-kilometre limit very keenly indeed. The cut-off point for people being treated under the scheme in Brisbane currently bisects the Ballina electorate. This means that some local residents—for example, those living in Ballina—can receive reimbursement for health-associated travel to Brisbane while those living in Byron Bay cannot. Far North Coast patients, and in particular those receiving cancer and other specialist treatment, are highly disadvantaged by the current parameters of the scheme and deserve better.
Recently I was approached by a couple who have spent many years travelling to Royal Brisbane Hospital for the husband's treatment for leukaemia. The husband is in receipt of a disability pension as, as a result of his illness, he is unable to work. His wife receives a carer's pension as he requires constant assistance and a driver for his trips to Brisbane. Because these people are required to travel to Brisbane frequently they have been required to pay large travel expenses and are currently suffering significant financial disadvantage. The distance from their residence to the hospital is 161 kilometres, therefore under current rules they are ineligible for IPTAAS. However, because of the condition of roads between their residence and the hospital and the level of traffic in the Brisbane metropolitan area, the round trip can take anywhere between four and six hours. The length of time taken for the trip and the couple's financial situation are taking an extra toll on the mental and physical wellbeing of the husband in particular. His wife has made inquiries in regard to the IPTAAS scheme and has been told that they are ineligible for assistance. Unfortunately, as there are no treatment options nearby and their financial situation is worsening, they are now considering ceasing further treatment.
This is a terrible situation and is just one example of many regional residents who are hurting as a result of this Government's heartless approach to health assistance. Regional patients should have the opportunity to receive treatment free of worry about their travel costs. The current scheme, for those who are eligible, pays not only for travel but also for accommodation at the rate of $33 per night for a single person. It should also be noted that the scheme is not means tested, so a well-off person in Ballina, for example, can access the scheme while a low-income earner in Byron Bay—just up the road—cannot. Patients should be given the opportunity to choose their own specialist. Under the current IPTAAS scheme patients are required to see their nearest treating specialist. Unfortunately, this not only restricts patients' access to the best available treatment but also fails to take into account that the waiting times for the nearest specialist may be very long. Current conditions impose an unfair burden on rural and coastal patients, who are detrimentally affected by waiting times, varying quality of care and an inability to participate in clinical trials.
Ready access to medical specialists at a time of need is taken for granted in the city, and it should not be any different in the country. It is inequitable that in New South Wales country and coastal patients are made to suffer financial hardship in order to access health treatment that is taken for granted in the city. I call on the Minister for Health to urgently review the current unfair guidelines for IPTAAS and help those regional patients who are suffering as a result of this Government's neglect of the regional health system. The distance criteria should be reduced to bring it into line with Queensland so that all those who need travel and accommodation support to travel to specialist facilities away from their community can get that help when they require it. Typically, these services are offered by specialist hospitals in Brisbane.
The New South Wales Government taxes its residents more than any other State—the average in Australia is around $2,000 a head and we pay about $2,600 a head—and is awash with stamp duty money from the property boom. There is certainly the capacity to offer IPTAAS support to more people in New South Wales who need it. I call on the Government to do precisely that as a matter of urgency. The honourable member for Lismore would have constituents in precisely the same position. It is quite wrong that there is not more needs-based criteria. The criteria should be changed to match that of Queensland—50 kilometres, not 200.