Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (11:44): I rise to support the original motion by the member for Mount Gambier, in regard to the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme:

That this house—

(a) recognises the importance of the Patient Assisted Transport Scheme (PATS) to regional patients that are required to travel over 100km for essential medical services;

(b) notes that the accommodation allowance for the PATS scheme has not increased since 2014; and

(c) calls on the state government to increase the accommodation allowance and all subsidies to be tied to CPI.

There are many people—about 30 per cent of the population—who live outside Adelaide, and many of those live outside the 100-kilometre limit to access the PATS scheme.

With the redistribution of boundaries there are not many in my electorate who can access the scheme; parts of Mannum are really the only places that are eligible. It is 100.2 kilometres from Adelaide to Mannum, and I have had correspondence from people who have said, 'Well, we miss out by half a kilometre, or a kilometre, five kilometres.' It all depends on exactly where you live, either in the town or on the edge of the town or in the surrounding areas. It is a bit of tough love for those who do not qualify, but I guess you have to have a boundary somewhere.

It is interesting to note that up to 30 per cent of the people in Adelaide hospitals (and this reflects on the 30 per cent of the people who live in the state) are country people, so there are many people who have to travel to Adelaide for various services, whether it is specialist services or cancer treatment, a whole range of specialist services that cannot be accessed in the country. Sadly, it has got to the stage where it is very hard to attract even general practitioners to some country areas, even though a lot of the time you get people—and it does not matter whether it is in health or whatever sector—who, when they travel to the bush, suddenly realise how good it is and end up staying there and setting up their life there.

If you look at the extremities of the state, as the member for Mount Gambier already put it, Mount Gambier is five hours south of Adelaide. If you want to go further out, right out to the Western Australia border, Border Village in the member for Flinders' electorate is 1,254.9 kilometres. Innamincka, up in the north-east corner, is 1,024.3 kilometres. In some of those areas people might have access to enable them to fly in, but it is certainly a long drive—and some of them would absolutely drive to get the health services required. Just in regard to flying, it is great to see that all-weather airstrip up there at Innamincka, on bitumen.

In regard to what PATS supports, it obviously supports transport and accommodation when people fit the eligibility criteria to access those necessary medical specialist services that are not available locally. That is notwithstanding that there are visiting specialists who come out; there are certainly visiting specialists who come out to Murray Bridge, but it should be noted that Murray Bridge is only about 75 kilometres from the city, so it does not qualify anyway.

The scheme is funded by government and administered by the Rural Support Service through the six regional local health networks. We had an election commitment, before the last election, to ensure that the fuel allowance rebate would increase by double to 32¢ per kilometre.

The Labor opposition scorned us at the time. It took Labor another seven months to announce in a city paper that they would double the scheme. That is welcome—it is a bit too late, but it is welcome. That was for appointments from 1 January 2023. No other improvements have been made since. Instead, we on this side of the house, especially those of us in the regional areas, continue to receive plenty of feedback that the processing of reimbursements is delayed by many weeks at times.

The accommodation rate for the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme is the lowest of the state and it is leaving many people out of pocket. A lot of these people have to stay—and I know this firsthand from talking to some country patients—for some cancer services. They have to come in the night before because they need to be there first thing in the morning, so there is obviously an accommodation cost to take up.

This is where the issue is. With not enough money being invested into country health, it certainly makes sure that more country patients have to come to Adelaide to see specialist doctors. I salute other members on this side of the house who have championed the cause for country patients.

The eligibility criteria includes that you must live more than 100 kilometres away from the nearest treating specialist, that you are a permanent South Australian resident, that you are receiving treatment claimable under Medicare, and that you have claimed any benefits from a private health fund first, if applicable. Under the scheme, there is a requirement for a medical specialist pathway to be accessible for a subsidy and this means that the person must have an appointment with a recognised medical specialist under the PATS subsidy scheme.

Health professional appointments such as allied health, general dentists, nursing professionals and GPs are not covered in this scheme, but approved services include the Pregnancy Advisory Centre, BreastScreen SA, chemotherapy services, prosthetic and orthotic clinics, radiology services (provided they are referred by a GP or an approved medical specialist), renal dialysis, clients that have been admitted to country hospitals, and inpatient rehabilitation services. That is the list of eligible treatments. There are some other subsidies around the accommodation allowance and there is some assistance with private medical travel.

In 2022, the Cancer Council of South Australia, together with other local South Australian charities, asked the incoming state government to increase the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme for accommodation from $40 a night to $100 for singles, and from $80 a night to $115 for couples. Certainly, when it comes to seeking further reform in this scheme, there is no more credible voice than the Cancer Council of South Australia.

I want to note the incredible work that the Cancer Council do in this state and their recent upgrade of accommodation to make it more comfortable for those patients who already are outside the comfort zone of their own home. A lot of these people are older patients who are unhappy enough that they have to be in Adelaide, and certainly organisations such as the Cancer Council make it the best they can for people to access those vital life-saving services. I commend the original motion.

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.