Standing Committee on Community Affairs
Senator MOORE (Queensland) (11.02 am)-Most of us on the committee actually always felt that this was an issue of great substance. The reason we felt that way is that for so many people who came to talk to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs at previous committee hearings for inquiries on topics such as cancer-for the report The cancer journey-gynaecological cancer services and even poverty several years ago brought up in evidence the issue of patient assisted travel. If you do a scroll through the website, you will find that so many people who live across our country acknowledge that the cost of travelling to access their right to effective health services was deterring them from making the decisions that could be best for their health and for the health of their families. I think the most confronting thing for all of us in this process was hearing the evidence from people across the country. This was not limited to one state; these issues were common across every state we visited. Those whom we could not visit wrote submissions. The inquiry was long awaited and I know that many people are waiting to see the recommendations and to see what difference we can make as a result of the evidence they gave to us. I particularly-and I think this is a common theme for our committee-want to thank the people from across the country who were prepared to be involved in the Senate process, who acknowledged that there were significant issues around the cost of travel and accommodation linked to health services and who were prepared to come and talk with us about those things. These inquiries would not operate if we were not getting submissions and evidence from people. Again, we were overwhelmed by how many people wished to talk with us.
The recommendations, as Senator Humphries pointed out, are focused on putting this issue higher on the priority list. We had evidence from many state governments. My own state government gave a detailed submission but did not feel they needed to come and give evidence at the inquiry. Nonetheless, they did provide a detailed submission to the inquiry process. The evidence that state governments were giving us had a common theme. They all acknowledged that there was a need for a patient assisted travel scheme, they all told us about internal reviews they had undertaken to look at the needs in their own areas and they all reinforced the fact that the patient assisted travel scheme-or whatever it was called in their local jurisdictions-was only ever meant to be a subsidy scheme. They said there was never any intent that it would cover a full reimbursement of costs. That was common. What was also common in the committee's experience was the comment, 'We acknowledge there should be a subsidy; we do not think the subsidy is enough.' That reaction was shared by every state. I also want to give particular credit to Senator Adams, who took us on the committee with her in her quest to ensure that the issue of patient assisted travel is recognised and brought up to the authorities in each state government. There have been efforts to improve schemes; I think that was common and it should be acknowledged. The evidence we heard was not new to any state authority and there has been some movement forward, but it needs to be coordinated; it needs to be a COAG issue. We need to ensure that the amount of travel and accommodation subsidies are increased. People who are in crisis about their health do not need the extra pain and suffering of financial problems.
I also just briefly want to say that the most worrying aspect for me was the evidence that we received that people were making health decisions based on their economic situation. Although it came up in other places, too, I think that I will be particularly haunted by the evidence that we received in Alice Springs about women who were making decisions about breast screening and subsequent urgent breast cancer treatments based on access to services in their local areas, which were non-existent. As we speak today, there is no effective screening process in Central Australia for breast cancer. Among all the other issues that we are facing in these areas of health care, that one comes closest to my own experience and it is one that I was worried about. I could not help but contrast my own experience-the way that I was supported and taken very quickly through immediate treatment-with that which is available to women in that part of Australia. If we can do anything with this inquiry, bringing that issue and the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme to the awareness of the public will be a start. We can make a difference. There is goodwill. There has to be good action.