$2.5m bill for health stays

Nataliene Hewitt and her son Matthew frequently travel to Brisbane to see the specialist.
Nataliene Hewitt and her son Matthew frequently travel to Brisbane to see the specialist. Mike Knott

MILLIONS of dollars are coming from the pockets of Bundaberg patients to pay for accommodation when they see specialists outside the region.

Member for Bundaberg Jack Dempsey said figures from the 08/09 financial year showed the state government gave $776,788 to Bundaberg region residents for the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme, leaving patients to pay $2.5 million to cover their accommodation costs.

The state government scheme provides $30 a day for accommodation, while the average cost per night is $130.

State-wide $41.1 million was spent on the travel subsidy— more than any other state in the country.

North Bundaberg carer Nataliene Hewitt said every few weeks she would spend hundreds of dollars making trips to Brisbane so her father or son could see specialists.

“If we have to stay for awhile we spend $100 to $120 a night and that is staying in backpackers,” she said.

Mrs Hewitt said on those trips she spent about $150 on fuel and about $100 on meals.

“We only get $111 back for fuel and $60 back for accommodation,” she said.

Mrs Hewitt said they could not get around travelling to Brisbane, as her son, Matthew, 31, often needed to see a specialist after he severely injured his hip in a car accident a couple of years ago.

“IT'S just so frustrating. The cost and the time you spending getting there — it can be an incredible inconvenience,” she said.

Ms Hewitt said to avoid staying over the night the family would often try to make the trip in one day, leaving at 3am and returning in the evening.

“We're all exhausted and upset by the end of it and Matthew's hip is usually hurting him from being in the car for so long,” she said.

Stories like Mrs Hewitt's were all too common, according to Mr Dempsey.

“It just shows that we need a proper health plan for Bundaberg,” Mr Dempsey said.

“While we have all the new redevelopments, it is still only a band-aid solution.”

Mr Dempsey said that in the long run it would be less costly to provide specialist treatment in Bundaberg rather than shipping patients to Brisbane or other larger centres.

Sunshine Coast-Wide Bay Health Service District northern cluster manager Beth Norton said a “reasonable number” of Bundaberg patients received treatment in Brisbane.

“Patients who require specialised medical services such as cataract surgery, cardiac care and radiotherapy for cancer may be required to travel for treatment,” Ms Norton said.

Ms Norton stressed the travel scheme was not designed to provide a full reimbursement of costs.

“The scheme is intended to provide financial subsidy for travel and accommodation costs only — not to reimburse and cover all costs,” she said.

“It is regularly reviewed and the associated costs considered.”

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