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Patient transport subsidies remain the same in Queensland despite rising petrol prices

Sally Carkeet (right) helps Gympie client Irene Downing into the car. (Supplied: Gympie Medical Transport)

Queenslanders forced to travel long distances for medical treatment are relying on government travel subsidies that have not been updated for a decade — when fuel was up to 50 cents a litre less expensive.

Despite rising costs, Queensland Health said it had no immediate plans to increase the subsidy.

Patients can apply to be paid part of their travel costs through the Patient Transport Subsidy Scheme (PTSS), which allows them to claim 30 cents per kilometre travelled.

Patients and medical transport groups said they were about $40 out of pocket for every $100 spent on travel.

Patients struggling

Gympie Medical Transport Service director Sally Carkeet said her not-for-profit service drove patients to major hospitals between Hervey Bay and Brisbane.

She believes the subsidy should increase to 80 cents per kilometre to offset increases in fuel, car maintenance and insurance costs, saying many patients cannot afford to travel.

"[Some] clients travel to have radium treatment every day for six-weeks. That money becomes a real issue," Ms Carkeet said.

"People are flat-out trying to feed themselves, without worrying about how they're going to get to their next doctor's appointment, 100 kilometres away.

Denise Pearce (middle) uses the Gympie Medical Transport Service to get to appointments. (Supplied: Gympie Medical Transport Service)

"It's a fundamental right and there should be support for that."

Gympie client Irene Downing has relied on medical transport services since her husband died in 2014.

Ms Downing has had bowel cancer and two heart surgeries, with many of her appointments scheduled at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, or at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

She said she would travel 320km and 200km respectively for each appointment.

"I think the government could do more to take the pressure off people who are sick and can't afford expensive travel," Ms Downing said.

"Rebates can take up to three-months to return, after forking out $1,000.

"If you go regularly, it's very hard financially."

'Confusing' process

Ms Carkeet said she believed patients were discouraged from making PTSS claims because the process was difficult to navigate.

"There's a lot of excessive paperwork, and then there's the long wait for funds," she said.

"Meanwhile patients are needing to travel multiple times, some 30 times in six weeks, due to their illness.

"So, they run out of money and can't go.

"It's up to us to find a way."

Ms Carkeet says each car in the Gympie Medical Transport Service travels 90-120 hours per month. (Supplied: Gympie Medical Transport Service)

LNP backs calls for change

Queensland's Opposition Leader David Crisafulli told participants at a health forum held in Gympie this month that an LNP government would review the subsidy.

He said the PTSS, last increased in 2012-13, relied on the goodwill and generosity of transport providers.  

"Think about the price of fuel in the last decade, and the running costs of a vehicle," he said.

"No government agency would be able to bring somebody from Gympie to the Sunny Coast and back for 100 bucks, not in a million years."

Mr Crisafulli said people "wouldn't get treatment" if the transport providers folded.

'Continually improving' system

A spokesperson for Queensland Health said the government recognised the need to use external healthcare services, and thus introduced the PTSS to assist with costs, adding that $97.2 million was allocated in the 2021-22 financial year.

In 2017, the Queensland Health Ombudsman examined the scheme and found it had "significant problems" with its administration due to the decentralised nature of the scheme, and that Queensland Health "had been unable to resolve them".

The Ombudsman recommended the government introduce reforms to provide "fair, equitable and consistent support" for patients by implementing its own recommendations from three previous reviews.

The Queensland Health spokesperson said it was "continually improving" the system after the inquiry, but no review to increase the motor vehicle subsidy was underway.

Health Minister Yvette D'Ath was unavailable for comment.

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