Remote patient travel support to test new government

Thursday 24 January, 2008

A commitment to fix remote patient travel and accommodation schemes must be factored into the 2008-09 Federal Budget if the Rudd Government is to make real progress on improving rural health outcomes, The Cancer Council Australia said today.

Commenting on The Cancer Council Australia's Federal Budget submission (www.cancer.org.au/budget08), Chief Executive Officer Professor Ian Olver said funding for the schemes had barely increased in the 20 years since they were devolved to the states and territories, despite major subsequent increases in living costs.

"Inadequate funding and complex administration of the schemes have created additional hardship for cancer patients who have to travel hours to access treatment," Professor Olver said.

"In some cases, women in remote areas choose a far more invasive mastectomy over lumpectomy, simply because it is too difficult for them to access the radiotherapy required for lumpectomy."

Professor Olver urged the Government to implement the Senate recommendations that a national plan to improve funding and coordination and establish minimum standards for the schemes be built into the next Australian Health Care Agreements.

"With the Rudd Government promising a co-operative, whole-of-government approach to rural health, the five-year health care agreements up for renewal this year and an increasing cancer burden borne disproportionately by Australians in the bush, the 2008-09 budget presents an ideal opportunity to start fixing the system," he said.

"The Cancer Council Australia welcomed the Rudd Government's policy directions on rural health. Some of the reforms will take time to implement, but fixing patient travel and accommodation schemes through the health care agreements will help improve quality of life for thousands of isolated cancer patients within the next financial year."

Professor Olver said he hoped the new government's directions on rural health would in the longer term facilitate the joint establishment of regional multidisciplinary cancer centres. He cited delays in establishing a radiation oncology service in Darwin as an example of the need for improved intergovernmental co-operation.