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AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (WA)
The Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) has repeatedly failed patients in remote and regional areas of Western Australia, AMA (WA) President Dr Michael Gannon said today.
Appearing before the Public Administration Committee’s inquiry into the PATS earlier today, Dr Gannon acknowledged the importance of the scheme, but also referred to a number of serious flaws that need fixing.
“No one rejects the need for a scheme to help patients access health care, but the scheme needs to be easily accessible and understood for it to fully achieve its aims,” Dr Gannon said.
“The AMA (WA) conducted an extensive survey of medical practitioners in rural and isolated areas in our state as well as Perth-based specialists and sub-specialists who provide medical care to patients from remote and regional areas of WA.
“There was a clear and widely held view from the survey responses that PATS has frequently failed patients in regional WA. Many reported to us that there is a serious lack of flexibility and too little common sense applied in making decisions on access to healthcare.
“Too many said the current scheme was overly bureaucratic and cumbersome and reported that some patients were not using the scheme because of the administrative hassles.
“Rural doctors have cited immense and continued frustration at having to attempt to convince PATS to pay for a trip when there is a specialist service available locally, but is not accessible within a medically acceptable time-frame, or does not have the required specialist expertise.
“For example, Narrogin based-patients may find PATS will refuse a trip to Perth on the grounds that Bunbury is a few kilometres closer. This ignores the reality of transport links and the patient’s options for accommodation.
“Whilst it is often the case that if a doctor represents the patient, he or she is able to secure access to PATS, the process of doing so is time consuming and frustrating.
“It is essential that world class health care be available for every West Australian, no matter where they live. But it is also appropriate that everyone share in the prosperity of our state, especially when they are living and working in areas that are generating much of our State’s wealth.
“The AMA (WA) is looking to the Committee for strong recommendations to reform PATS, to make it easier to use and more understandable.
“We will then look to the Health Minister and to Parliament to pass the Committee’s recommendations.
“In the 21st century with online facilities available virtually to everyone, it should not be beyond our intelligence and common sense to make the PATS even more accessible and of even greater medical assistance.
“The Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) should be more flexible and easier to use for both doctors and patients. It also needs root and branch reform for it to achieve its aims properly,” Dr Gannon said.