Thursday 19 October 2006


[3.06 p.m.]

Mr FINCH - Thank you for the consideration, Mr President. My questions are to the Leader. Will the Government address the lack of an integrated transport and accommodation system for people required to travel for medical treatment, particularly from rural and remote areas? Is the Government aware that the costs of transport and other impediments are causing some patients in rural areas to choose not to travel for medical treatment? Will the Government change the present Patient Travel Assistance Scheme to increase the low level of reimbursement and lessen the high level of paperwork involved?
Mr PARKINSON - I thank the honourable member for his question. The Government recognises the special needs of patients and their families or carers who are required to travel a long distance to receive specialist medical treatment. Transport to and from medical health services is essentially an individual responsibility unless there is a clearly defined clinical need for transport to be provided.
However, the Government does provide transport services through a range of programs and attempts where possible to address gaps in service and the needs of people living in rural areas. Financial assistance towards travel and accommodation costs is provided through the Patient Travel Assistance Scheme. Where transport to the mainland is required air travel for eligible patients is arranged and paid for through the PTAS arrangements.
In addition the Government utilises other transport services for non-emergency patients who have a clear and genuine medical need for transport to and from a medical facility or diagnostic service. This includes road ambulances where care is needed en route and stretcher-based patient transport services operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, which are based in Launceston, Devonport, Burnie and Hobart. A tripartite agreement for population ageing in Tasmania between the Australian Government, the State Government and the Local Government Association, LGAP, signed in August 2006 will provide opportunities to progress an integrated transport system with the aim to enhance physical, emotional and social wellbeing, with a focus on reducing social isolation and to enable continuing quality of life for older people.
As to the second part of the question, the Government understands that the cost of transport may create difficulties for people in rural areas. The purpose of the Tasmanian PTAS is to provide financial assistance for patients, and if necessary an escort, who are required to travel interstate and intrastate to access appropriate medical specialist care not available in Tasmania and where there is a need to travel more than 75 kilometres one way to access specialist medical services within Tasmania.
On the third part of the question, the level of PTAS reimbursement for persons driving their vehicle to access specialist medical care has been increased from 1 July 2006 in line with the budgetary commitment. The rate has been increased from 10 cents per kilometre to 13 cents per kilometre, which brings Tasmania into line with most mainland States. Although several States pay a slightly higher travel rate, the PTAS distance criterion of 75 kilometres in Tasmania enables a petrol allowance to be paid over shorter distances. Other States apply a distance criterion of between 100 and 200 kilometres each way before the patient is eligible for reimbursement. The patients and their escorts are also eligible for an allowance of $30 per night towards their commercial accommodation. This allowance is comparable to the rebate provided by other State and Territory travel schemes. I am advised that there are no immediate plans to increase the accommodation allowance.
In 2005-06, 7 489 trips were PTAS-funded statewide. Of these, 2 680 were for interstate travel and 4 809 trips were intrastate. The PTAS review committee has streamlined the application form over the years and based on feedback received, it is generally considered user-friendly for patients. An electronic application form is also under development which aims to reduce the level of paperwork involved