Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (16:54): I would like to say a few brief words about the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme (PATS), which is an important issue for not only the electorate of Stuart but also electorates all over regional South Australia, including your electorate of Giles, Madam Speaker.

Essentially, the PAT Scheme is to help country patients to seek the care of medical specialists more than 100 kilometres away from their home. It is important that they get that support because, as the Minister for Health mentioned yesterday, it is not possible to provide specialist care in every location in South Australia and it is probably more difficult in regional areas—we understand that—but it is important to help people from regions to get to that care.

As the scheme stands at the moment, claimants are required to make a personal contribution of $30 which is subtracted from eligible travel assistance. In relation to travel, assistance is generally limited to public transport fares or an allowance for the use of private vehicles. Reimbursement for private car costs is based on an allowance of 16¢ per kilometre. Interestingly, 16¢ per kilometre is nowhere near the 71¢ or 73¢ that the ATO deems to be a fair rate, and certainly the state government reimburses its employees at that rate. Air travel costs may be reimbursed where medically endorsed. Taxi fares, hire cars, parking fees, and so on are also very important.

They are the sorts of things that are in the scheme at the moment. Please don't get me wrong: every person in regional South Australia is pleased to have that support. There is no doubt about that. It is better than nothing. However, it is a long way from covering the fair, reasonable costs that people incur at a difficult time in their life.

Understanding this, the Liberal Party in the lead-up to the last election made a promise to the public of South Australia that, if elected, the Liberal Party would put an extra $1 million per year towards this scheme to support people from regional South Australia. That would have gone a long way towards improving the reimbursements people receive when they seek this care. Members should bear in mind that this is not elective care or run-of-the-mill medical care; this is medically necessary specialist care more than 100 kilometres away from home.

Understanding that, the Liberal Party was prepared to put money towards this. It was one of the few election promises we made in relation to supporting regional people in a medical way. We made this promise with PATS. We also committed to having an MRI machine put at Port Augusta Hospital to support all the Upper Spencer Gulf, the Outback and a lot of the Mid North and West Coast areas. We also proposed that we would put chemotherapy services at the Port Augusta Hospital.

Of those three promises, the first two were not matched by the government. The third one was—and I am pleased to acknowledge that. We are waiting for the implementation of that matching promise. Improvement of the PAT Scheme and the MRI machine were not matched by the government, and we are still waiting for the fulfilment of the promise to put chemotherapy services at the Port Augusta Hospital. While we await the fulfilment of that promise, people throughout the electorate of Stuart and all the way from Mount Gambier to Port Lincoln to Ceduna need this support.

I would like to dwell on one thing for a minute or so. I have been approached by people in my electorate who are currently travelling from Port Augusta to Port Pirie for chemotherapy. Again, this is a difficult issue. Regardless of political persuasion, I am sure all members would understand how challenging and difficult this is. No-one undertakes chemotherapy for fun. They only do it when they have to.

Often it is every day for a week, two weeks or three weeks, then there is a break. It often happens regularly, so people travelling every day from Port Augusta to Port Pirie—85 kilometres away—are not eligible for this support. That is a real drain for them. They have to travel back and forth for perhaps five consecutive days, then they have a weekend off, then another five days, and they miss out on this support.  

While we wait for the chemotherapy service at Port Augusta to be introduced, which we certainly welcome and look forward to, in addition to people's health being disadvantaged, they are financially disadvantaged. I would just like to compare the PAT Scheme that we have in South Australia to similar schemes interstate. I am very sad to report that we do not fare well in that comparison.

Looking at South Australia compared to other states, we require that support is given only when the specialist care is more than 100 kilometres away from the patient—so, a 200 kilometre round trip—and that is one of the worst in the nation compared to all other states. With regard to the cent per kilometre reimbursement, they are all very similar. Ours is 16¢ a kilometre, and that sits in the middle of the pack, it is fair to say.

With regard to an accommodation subsidy, South Australian patients receive $30 per night reimbursement and, again, that is the worst in the nation. With regard to a private accommodation subsidy, if a patient travels more than 100 kilometres but stays with family or friends they receive no reimbursement whatsoever, and in other states they do. Again, we are at the bottom of the pack there.

With regard to an escort subsidy or some sort of carer (which people would understand may well be very important, certainly not in every case), South Australia is the worst. We are the only state that does not provide any subsidy or financial support for a carer to accompany a person more than 100 kilometres to seek specialist-required medical care.

With regard to the personal contribution that is required, there is a $30 subsidy. This is with regard to the deduction from the travel allowance and, again, we are the worst. Some states do not require any personal contribution; there is no deduction from the accumulated cent per kilometre allowance. Again, we are one of the worst. With regard to a taxi subsidy, we do not get one in South Australia. It is a great shame; other states do.

With regard to a public transport subsidy, in South Australia we do not get one; other states do. With regard to an air subsidy, in South Australia we do not get one and other states do. I need just to clarify those last few. In other states it is automatic. In South Australia it is not automatic; it has to be applied for. I urge the government to look at this PAT Scheme very seriously.

I know that chemotherapy is coming to some other cities, and, as I said, I congratulate the government on matching the Liberals' election promise and installing that in Port Augusta. However, once that is there, there will still be a need for people to go to other specialists a long way from home, and the system that we have in South Australia just does not compare to the system that is in other states.

I urge the minister and I urge the government to revise this system to the benefit of patients, of very sick people, who need this care. The minister yesterday in his address in parliament outlined some improvements and some achievements that he believes have been made in South Australia, but I must highlight the fact that many of those announcements are more than two years old.

Again, it highlights how important this Patient Assistance Transport Scheme is, because things are not getting better. When we have someone come out in July this year, 2010, and the minister takes credit for announcements that were made more than two years ago—June or May, I think it was, 2008—and they are still not in place, it highlights how very important improving and upgrading this scheme is for the people of Stuart and the people of regional South Australia in general.

A lot of improvements could be made. We could certainly look at reducing the kilometre distance so that people who are travelling, perhaps, 50 kilometres from home—remember, a 100 kilometre round trip—could be receiving this benefit. We are the worst in certainly four out of five key areas, and in other areas applications have to be made rather than receiving automatic support from the government. I urge the government: please look at improving this scheme on behalf of people all throughout regional South Australia.


No Very

Captcha Image