George lives near Bega with his partner Linda and their obsessive kelpie named Griffin. He is one of 31,000 rural and regional patients who travel long distances to access medical treatment.
After being diagnosed with a bacteria disease and cancer in 2017, George needed treatment in Sydney.
A helping hand from the NSW Government’s Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAS) has relieved some of the burden.
The $25.9 million scheme provides financial assistance towards travel and accommodation costs when a patient needs to travel long distances for treatment that is not available locally.
George spent three months in hospital, including 10 days in intensive care as doctors tried to halt the bacteria. George was then diagnosed with a stage four cancer in his colon.
“Most of the sophisticated treatment facilities are in the big cities, with Sydney being my nearest place for treatment,” George says.
“I’m a seven-and-a-half hour drive or an all-day train trip from Sydney and I can’t sit for long periods because of the cancer I’ve got, so I have to travel by air. A one-way airfare from Bega (Merimbula) to Sydney is about $400.
“Getting cancer and having the treatment is very stressful, but just knowing that you’re not paying all of the out-of-pocket expenses is a huge relief.”
Member for Monaro John Barilaro says the health and wellbeing of people like George is a priority.
“Investment in the IPTAAS scheme has more than doubled in the last eight years from $12.2 million in 2011–12 to $25.9 million in 2018–19,” he says.
“When you live in regional areas the tyranny of distance can present many unexpected challenges, including affordable access to essential specialist medical services.
“With many parts of the state currently struggling with the drought, it makes a significant difference to patients,” Mr Barilaro says.
Since its introduction, changes have been made to the scheme to make it easier for people to access. These include removing co-payments, subsidising air travel booking fee costs and launching a new claims system.
“By reducing travel costs, the NSW Government’s scheme helps remove a key hurdle to seeking specialist medical treatment when it’s needed,” Mr Barilaro says.
More information can be found online via the IPTAS website.