A doubling of the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme (PATS) fuel subsidy will have a significant financial impact upon local residents having to travel for cancer treatment, say Mount Gambier MP Troy Bell and Chair of the Mount Gambier Cancer Support Group Lorraine Musgrove.
In early January, State Health Minister Chris Picton announced the PATS fuel subsidy would double from January 1, from 16 to 32 cents, in the first major increase to PATS subsidies in around two decades.
PATS provides financial assistance towards accommodation and fuel costs for people travelling to attend specialist medical services and appointments more than 100km away from their hometown.
Mount Gambier MP Troy Bell said he had been campaigning for the scheme to expand its criteria and increase subsidies for more than nine years.
“Since I became the Member for Mount Gambier back in 2014, I have fought on behalf of local residents to have the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme (PATS) reflect real life fuel and accommodation costs,” he said.
“In 2019, my office held a PATS forum attended by 120 people. The number one concern raised was the failure of the subsidy to accurately reflect real life fuel and accommodation costs.
“Regional people have just as much right to access the best medical specialists as city residents and don’t deserve to be penalised for needing to access that care.
“We’ve had some wins in the last few years in $3m additional funding and the expansion of the scheme to include extended stays and Airbnb accommodation, however more improvements can always be made.”
Lorraine Musgrove, Chair of the Mount Gambier Cancer Support Group said she heard about the subsidy increase whilst on holidays and described it as “just brilliant”.
“I was away and one of our ladies messaged me and said, ‘the fuel has gone up’ and I said ‘my goodness’. I googled it and thought ‘what a big bonus for people’.”
Mrs Musgrove and her late husband travelled to Adelaide for his treatment for lung cancer in the 1980s and said expenses can really add up.
“With fuel costs as they are, this will have a big financial impact for people needing to travel,” she said. “Even smaller cars to go to Adelaide and back for $140 barely covers it.”
Mr Bell said Limestone Coast residents are among the biggest utilisers of PATS, so the measure will have a real financial impact upon local people needing to travel to access specialist medical care.
“For example, a trip to Adelaide under the new subsidy will see around $288 back in the pockets of residents rather than $144 – that’s a big change,” he said.
“However, there’s always more work to be done. I’d also like to see the accommodation subsidy increase to reflect the real cost of accommodation. This is something I’ll continue fighting for.”