10 May 2023

Patient travel system in need of 'major overhaul'

| Cape York Weekly
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PATIENTS requiring travel in and out of Weipa have slammed the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service for its lack of efficiency.

Last week, a Weipa couple was left stranded in Cairns when a Qantas flight schedule change wasn’t passed on to them.

Cape York Weekly has also been told of patients being told of their flight bookings on the same day of travel – or the day before – despite having appointments booked weeks in advance.

“The whole system is inefficient and needs a major overhaul,” said one patient, who asked not to be named.

“It’s great that these flights are subsidised but we have jobs and need to make other arrangements once we get to Cairns.

“You can’t book accommodation until you know your flights.”

On Monday of last week, two Weipa people turned up at Cairns Airport, only to discover their flight had been shifted forward by two hours.

There was no other flight until the next day.

“We had to travel back into the city, get accommodation and missed a day’s work in Weipa as a result,” one patient said.

“Qantas said they informed Patient Travel of the change, but that information wasn’t passed onto us.”

Queensland Health said it would pay $60 towards the extra night of accommodation, which wasn’t half of the cost, but won’t pay for taxi charges or meals incurred by its error.

“The problem is not in Weipa, we get great support from the Patient Travel staff member here,” a patient said.

“The problem is in Cairns. They seem to be understaffed.”

Torres and Cape executive director of asset management Dean Davidson offered no apology to affected patients.

“TCHHS operates an extensive and efficient year-round patient travel system across Cape York, the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area,” he said in a statement.

“Each year, the health service manages more than 17,000 movements of patients and carers both within our region and to external destinations such as Cairns.

“Our staff pride themselves on delivering a high-quality travel service, often at short notice and often under challenging circumstances.

“We regret if any of our clients have found the service not to their satisfaction.”

Mr Davidson said TCHHS endeavoured to make all travel arrangements in as timely a manner as possible.

“Although patients may be advised of their appointments some weeks in advance, the details of these appointments may not be received by our travel staff so they can make travel arrangements until closer to the date of the appointment,” he said.

“We are also reliant upon receiving timely advance notice of schedule or flight changes from airline operators. This is not always possible when changes are made at short notice.

“Where supplied, patient contact details are provided to airline operators to enable direct contact should schedule changes occur outside of office hours.”

The TCHHS travel office provides an after-hours service between 5pm and 9pm on weekdays and between 8am and 9pm on weekends and public holidays to assist referred patients with any travel issues.

“Where patients incur additional costs as a result of last-minute changes to their travel arrangements, they are eligible to apply for reimbursement through the Queensland Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme and should lodge an application to do so,” Mr Davidson said.

“It should be noted the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme is designed to assist with travel and accommodation costs only.

“It is not intended to cover all costs associated with accessing specialist health services.

“The Torres and Cape HHS continually reviews all its services, including travel, to ensure they are meeting current expectations and to plan for future service needs.”

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