The Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme
Lack of access to specialist treatment is a key issue for people from rural and regional areas who are affected by cancer. As geographical isolation increases, cancer care is less accessible. The further from a metropolitan centre a person with cancer lives, the more likely they are to die within five years of diagnosis. For some cancers, those who live remotely are up to 300 per cent more likely to die within five years of diagnosis.
People from rural or remote areas will almost always need to travel for some elements of their cancer care due to the complexity of cancer treatment—including the way in which treatment is delivered, the requirement for input from more than one specialist and the need for highly specialised medical equipment. The costs of transport and accommodation for treatment represent a significant burden for people affected by cancer living in rural and remote areas, and contribute to the context in which decisions are made about treatment and recovery. People may defer treatment or seek alternative treatment options due to the financial burden that travel and accommodation can add to the process.
- Many patients and carers who are eligible for the VPTAS are grateful that the scheme exists, and for the financial support it provides them at a difficult time.
- The VPTAS subsidy levels are too low. Many stakeholders informed us that the subsidies were not making much of a dent in their travel costs and were unrealistic in light of how much petrol and accommodation actually cost.
- The distance eligibility thresholds (100 kilometres, or 500 kilometres per week for five weeks) seem arbitrary and unfair to most stakeholders, particularly for those who fall just outside the criteria despite having the same needs as eligible users of the scheme. Ineligibility for accommodation support acutely impacts those having block treatment who are just short of the 100 kilometre threshold.
- Lack of awareness of the scheme is a key challenge. Many people told us that they did not hear about the VPTAS until after they had already made several trips for treatment – or that the first time that they heard about it was through our consultation process.
1. That the Victorian government:
a) Increase the VPTAS subsidies from:
- 17 cents per kilometre to 30 cents per kilometre for private vehicle usage; and
- $35 (+ GST) per night to $75 (+ GST) per night for accommodation
with annual increases to the subsidies indexed against the Consumer Price Index;
b) Change the VPTAS distance criteria from 100 kilometres each way/500 kilometres over five consecutive weeks to a single cumulative threshold of 200 kilometres per week; and
c) Improve administration of the scheme, to allow for online processing and prepayment for accommodation costs.
2. That GPs’ offices, public and private hospitals and other cancer care treatment centres:
a) Prominently display VPTAS posters, brochures and forms, to increase the likelihood that patients and carers who need to travel for treatment know about the VPTAS before they travel;
b) Ask patients and carers about their likely need to travel as part of routine information gathering and needs screening, and provide VPTAS information for those who require it.