An update on patient assisted travel schemes (PATS)

Friday, 23 May 2014

Concerns about patient assisted travel schemes (PATS) are one of the most frequent reasons for health consumers from rural and remote areas to contact the Alliance. The Alliance has just published an updated Fact Sheet on PATS.

These schemes have a critical place in enabling people from more remote areas to access specialised care not available locally. The Alliance has long been of the view that the schemes are not well enough known by rural and remote patients, too complex to permit ready access to them, and not sufficiently generous in terms of the resources they provide for those they support.

The principle which underpins these schemes is very strong and perfectly clear. They are the means by which people from rural and remote areas can have the access to more specialised services for which they have to travel long distances and often stay over in regional centres all capital cities. Without such schemes, rural people would have to pay substantial costs for accessing such services which are effectively free to people who live in the major cities where those services are readily available.

Although the services are more specialised, they can never be seen as discretionary. They include such things as oncology for cancer patients, dermatology for skin issues and dialysis for end-stage kidney disease.

Their agreements with the Commonwealth for the provision of free public hospital services require the States and Territories to ensure that people have equal access to public hospital care regardless of their geographic location. So whatever changes are afoot with the proportion of total hospital costs provided by the Commonwealth, this requirement stands.

There are variations between the States and Territories in terms of the services for which patients can claim PATS, arrangements relating to escorts, and the dollar amounts payable under particular circumstances.

There have been calls for the schemes to be expanded to include a range of essential non-medical specialist services such as allied health and dentistry that are not currently
covered.

The challenge to achieve a balance between consistency across jurisdictions and the flexibility which is desirable to reflect the different sizes and distances in particular States and Territories.

The Alliance will keep monitoring the situation and welcomes feedback from patients, their families and clinicians. Some of the details of eligibility requirements and subsidies available by State and Territory are in the Guide to Patient Assisted Travel Schemes.