Cancer Council Australia

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Closing the loop: bringing patients to the new regional centres



Capital investment in regional cancer centres will only reach its full potential to improve treatment outcomes for rural and remote patients if the next Australian government commits to fixing the longstanding problem of inadequate patient travel and accommodation assistance.

The 2010 federal election provides an ideal opportunity for the next Australian government to announce a national plan for remote patient travel and accommodation assistance, particularly in light of:

  • the historic announcement in 2009-10 of $560 million in capital funds for a national network of regional cancer centres – which will only achieve their potential to reduce inequity if remote patients can travel to them for treatment;
  • more than three years for both sides of politics to consider the report of a 2007 Senate inquiry into remote patient travel and accommodation schemes, which included recommendations we put forward here; 1
  • a sweeping national health reform agenda built on central coordination and a greater Commonwealth role in healthcare funding;
  • a National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission recommendation to develop a travel “scheme funded at a level that takes better account of the out-of-pocket costs of patients and their families and facilitates timely treatment and care”; 2
  • a Commonwealth commitment announced in 2010 to “the development of an improved national approach to patient assisted travel”; 3and
  • a follow-up statement on 7 July 2010 that “the Commonwealth and states and territories (with the exception of Western Australia) committed to undertake further work around Patient Assisted Travel Schemes, with a view to higher and more consistent national standards”.

Evidence shows the further from a metropolitan centre a cancer patient lives, the more likely they are to die within five years of diagnosis. 4 5 6 For some cancers, remote patients are up to 300% more likely to die within five years of diagnosis. 7 Cancer care is less accessible as geographical isolation increases with survival rates correlating directly to quality and availability of services. 8

Geographic isolation, shortage of healthcare providers and a higher proportion of disadvantaged groups are contributing factors. 3

The establishment of 20 regional cancer centres across the country under the Rural Cancer Centres Initiative will reduce geographic inequity in cancer care outcomes. However, until the centres are functional, rural and remote cancer patients will need to travel to major centres to access appropriate cancer services. And when the centres are operational, remote patients will still need to travel vast distances to reach them, while complex cancers will continue to require specialised treatment in metropolitan areas or larger regional centres.

Appropriate government-funded travel and accommodation assistance is therefore a critical component of improving access to care for patients in rural and remote areas – and one that has been overlooked for decades.

Cancer Council Australia and the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia call on the next Australian government to lead a national agreement with the states and territories to uniformly improve remote patient travel and accommodation assistance through increased funding, minimum standards and streamlined administration.

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References

1) Senate report on patient travel and accommodation schemes, available at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/clac_ctte/pats/report/index.htm 

2) National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, A healthier future for all Australians - Final Report June 2009, recommendation 67.

3) Commonwealth of Australia, A National Health and Hospitals Network for Australia’s future, 2010.

4) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Australasian Association of Cancer Registries. Cancer survival in Australia 1992–1997: geographic categories and socioeconomic status. Canberra: AIHW, 2003. (Cancer Series No. 22. AIHW Catalogue No. CAN 17.)

5) Jong KE, Vale PJ, Armstrong BK. Rural inequalities in cancer care and outcome. Med J Aust 2005; 182: 13-14.

6) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Health in rural and remote Australia. Canberra: AIHW, 1998. (AIHW Cat. No. PHE 6.)

7) Jong KE, Smith DP, Yu XQ, et al. Remoteness of residence and survival from cancer in New South Wales. Med J Aust 2004; 180: 618-622.

8) Clinical Oncological Society of Australia, Mapping regional oncology services, 2006

 


This page was last updated on: Tuesday, August 7, 2012