Residents in remote areas around western NSW who need to travel to receive specialist medical care will benefit from a $149.5 million funding boost announced by the state government at Dubbo Hospital on Monday.
The funding for the expansion of the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS) was announced by deputy premier and minister for regional NSW Paul Toole, regional health minister Bronnie Taylor and Dubbo MP and western NSW minister Dugald Saunders.
Residents in regional and remote areas can get extra subsidies or 40 cents per kilometre for over 100 kilometres of travel and accommodation if they need to leave their communities to receive specialist care.
Patients benefiting from IPTAAS previously got 22 cents per kilometre.
It will mean some 26,000 residents in these remote towns will no longer be burdened by the rising costs of petrol or accommodation fees while they seek specialist treatments at Dubbo Hospital, medical centres, and allied health services.
Those needing accommodation facilities at Macquarie Home Stay in Dubbo or hotels would also be assisted through the expanded subsidies.
Recognising the acute shortage of medical practitioners and decline in health services in the bush, Mr Toole said while the recruitment of more doctors and nurses was in the process, the doubling of IPTAAS subsidy would make sure people are receiving the medical care they need now.
"Sometimes they're not going to receive that medical care locally so they're going to have to travel to the specialist to receive that special care," he said.
"That's why we're doubling support to IPTAAS payment to take away concerns of people on the costs of travel [which] should not be seen as a barrier to receive the treatment."
Doubling the travel and accommodation subsidies for remote residents seeking urgent medical treatment is one of the "dynamic" ways regional health policies are being remodeled in response to the health workforce issues and delivery of vital services in remote towns, Ms Taylor said.
Remote town patients needing treatments for foot complications related to diabetes, dental and eye care are also included in the doubled subsidy assistance.
While the training and recruitment of GPs who can also do specialist care such as obstetrics, pediatrics or anesthesia are being reviewed through federal health regulations, Ms Taylor said the first 80 "super nurses" will be recruited to assist doctors to meet the needs in remote towns.
"They are super nurses who can order chest x-rays, diagnostic tests, abdominal ultrasound [to make our health system flexible]," Ms Taylor.
Training for psychiatrists would also be expanded in collaboration with country-based universities to reduce the growing cases of mental health in regional areas, Ms Taylor said.
"If we as a government can do one thing to support people and their families during a time of great emotional and financial distress, this is it."
Ms Taylor said improving health services and health workforce in the regions are her priorities saying they are "trying different things on incentivising our workforce or we can stay in the past and expect a different outcome" alluding to last May's parliamentary inquiry findings citing critical decline in regional health services heightened by the shortage of doctors.
Mr Saunders said the subsidies were "meaningful ways of supporting people in the west", particularly those in far western towns burdened by distance to get to their nearest doctor for basic treatment.
"This will have a massive impact on people from Bourke to Brewarrina from Walgett to Broken Hill Ridge and Lightning Ridge or anywhere in between," he said.
"It's going to change people's lives ... we have a family who has traveled to Dubbo [to seek treatment] 47 times in the last year ... this is one way we can help people much better."
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