The Nationals WA have joined regional residents in calling on the State Government to drastically improve the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) for regional patients, with the launch of a petition in Parliament this week.
Member for North West Central, Merome Beard MLA, said access to health services in regional WA had become increasingly challenging following service cuts by the WA Labor Government and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
“It is apparent through conversations with local residents that the needs and expectations of regional patients is not being met by the current PATS system,” Ms Beard said.
“The State Government must ensure all Western Australian’s have access to quality healthcare, no matter where they live.”
The petition calls for six key areas of PATS to be improved upon, including:
• Increased fuel subsidies for private vehicle use
• Increasing the accommodation subsidy.
• Providing taxi vouchers to allow patients to get to and from medical appointments.
• Improving processing and reimbursement times for patients.
• Expanding PATs to also include dental and allied health services.
• Providing greater recognition and support for patient escorts and carers.
Ms Beard said Labor’s decision to cut maternity services in Carnarvon in February 2022 had forced expectant families to travel hundreds of kilometres to give birth.
“In one case, I’ve heard of patients being made to travel over 1,000 kilometres away to Bunbury to give birth, totally isolated from their family and their community.
“This has also revealed gaps relating to patient escorts, with the lack of funding meaning fathers and partners are often not present at birth, leaving families separated at an important and significant time in their lives.”
Shadow Minister for Regional Health, Martin Aldridge MLC, said a comprehensive review of PATS had been undertaken in 2015, yet the State Labor Government had failed to address many of the recommendations made.
“Each year, 35,000 regional residents utilise PATS to access essential health services, yet this scheme has seen very little improvement over the past decade,” Mr Aldridge said.
Mr Aldridge said the existing fuel subsidy for PATS was “woefully inadequate” in 2023.
“The fuel subsidy has been set at just 16 cents since 2009, despite the cost of petrol and diesel regularly soaring above $2 a litre in many regional areas,” he said.
“At a time when many are doing it tough with cost-of-living pressures, it’s shameful a State Government as prosperous as WA won’t put their hands in their pocket to ensure people have the financial support needed to access health services not available locally.”
The petition will run until 2 November 2023 and can be signed online here: https://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Parliament/LCePetitions.nsf/petitions/23-0029