Published by Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell MP
Independent MP Troy Bell said he’s confident a strong response to a public PATS forum in Mount Gambier this week will prompt other regional MPs to take action on the issue in their own electorate.
The State Government’s Patient Assistance Transport Scheme (PATS) provides financial assistance to regional South Australians towards the cost of travel and accommodation when patients are required to travel to see medical specialists.
More than 100 residents attended the Q&A style forum, to hear their questions answered by PATS Manager Alexis Nicholson and Chief Finance Officer Steve Brown.
Issues raised included a patient’s right to choose their own specialist, why dental services are not recognised, the scheme’s ability to tie in with NDIS funding and why the scheme does not recognise Airbnb as accommodation providers.
Mr Bell said the forum had given clarity to some attendees but had also identified several major issues around the scheme’s ability to reflect the individual circumstances of patients.
“If I had to rate the PATS scheme, I’d probably give it a 5 out of 10 – there are major improvements to be made for it to properly serve the needs of regional South Australians,” he said.
“Certainly, we’ve progressed since the Filby review in 2013 but there are important issues that have to be addressed with those who make the administrative decisions, like Minister for Health Stephen Wade, whose senior advisor was in attendance.
“I think there’s some additions the Minister needs to look at, such as the NDIS. If you’ve got a disability that is health related, you can use your NDIS package for mowing the lawns and support, why can’t you use it for travel and accommodation to see the specialist directly linked to your disability?”
The scheme’s stagnating fuel subsidy came under question, with local resident Brenton Telford querying why the scheme’s 16c/km rate has not risen in line with the travel subsidies of other State Government schemes and agencies.
In response, Ms Nicholson said both the fuel and accommodation subsidies were currently under review.
The PATS Manager said there was an opportunity for a ‘rolling review’ of the scheme, rather than a full review which could take years to complete and action.
In the last financial year, Ms Nicholson said 43,700 claims were processed involving 15,500 patients and around 70 per cent of the scheme’s claims came from the South East region,
Mr Bell thanked those community members who aired personal stories.
“There was over a 100 people here tonight and most of them have been into my office at some stage during the last few years, so I know their issues well. I’m really glad that people spoke out and raised their issue in a respectful and thoughtful way.
Mr Bell said he would be opening up a continuing dialogue with Minister Wade and also encouraged other regional MPs to take up the issue.
“What I’d like to see is every country MP run a PATS forum in their electorate. These issues are not unique to Mount Gambier and I want to see these forums held across the state,” he said.
“As a collective of regional MPs, we can really fight for our communities and ensure our people are getting the best deal they possibly can.
“No one is using PATS to make money,” he said. “They’re using it because they are seriously ill and they need to see health specialists outside their region.”