A NIGHTMARE: John Hall of Grafton has to travel twice to Coffs Harbour for prostate cancer treatment to get a rebate for travel.
A NIGHTMARE: John Hall of Grafton has to travel twice to Coffs Harbour for prostate cancer treatment to get a rebate for travel.

Patients are forced to make unnecessary trips

CANCER patients travelling from Grafton to Coffs Harbour are being forced to make unnecessary trips in order to qualify for subsidised travel and accommodation, says a Coffs Harbour patient advocate.

Shearwater Lodge Inc chairman Neville Hillenberg said many patients received no information or incorrect information about the scheme from social workers, adding to their confusion.

"The Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme expects sick people who live under 100km from Coffs Harbour's Cancer Institute, to make extra trips each week on the worst highway in the state," said Mr Hillenberg.

"We are unnecessarily putting sick people on the highway to save an average of $30 a week for each person."

Until recently, one of those patients was Grafton's John James Hall, who travelled to the cancer centre for nine weeks of radio-therapy treatment for prostate cancer and who also developed radiation cystitis of the bladder.

Mr Hall said travel was a nightmare.

The 78-year-old pensioner, who lives 87km from Coffs Harbour, had to drive 174km to and from Coffs Harbour on Monday, returning on Tuesday to stay at Shearwater Lodge patient accommodation until Friday before going home to Grafton.

This saw him travelling a total of 348km a week, battling not just pain, but tiredness and the need to urinate frequently.

"I was really suffering," Mr Hall said, recalling his desperate dashes for toilets at service stations, parks and hotels on each trip.

"Thank God for the lady in pink (who advertises a brand of incontinence underwear).

"I don't believe a bureaucrat can put a mileage on a human being.

"If I lived at Ulmarra, I'd qualify, but at Grafton I don't."

Patient Transport Service area manager within the Mid North Coast Local Health District Julie Dodd said the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme criteria required patients to travel a minimum of 100 km (one way) to be eligible for travel and accommodation assistance under the scheme.

"On January 1, 2012, this criteria was extended to include any patient who travels a minimum of 200km a week.

"Patients must meet this eligibility criteria and travel the minimum distance of 100km (a week).

"The policy allows for a discretionary shortfall of five per cent on the 100km (one way.)

"Because IPTAAS is a medical referral scheme, the local medical practitioner is the first point of contact for patients and should make them aware of the assistance available under the scheme.

"General practitioners are provided with claim forms to have on hand should they need to refer their patients out of the local area for specialist treatment."



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