COUNTRY HEALTH SERVICES

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: My question is directed to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Will the minister update the council on what the government is doing to maintain and enhance country health services?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I thank the honourable member for his question and, of course, his long-term advocacy for services for country South Australians. The Marshall Liberal government was elected with a commitment to support better provision of health services to country South Australians, services which had been sorely neglected by Labor over 16 years as they centralised governance in the CBD.

This government has already established a track record of delivering on this commitment, just as we have on other commitments. This government is investing $140 million to address the backlog in country capital works. We have one MRI machine for Berri. We have signed new contracts for medical imaging in Murray Bridge and Port Pirie, which remove gap payments for patients. We have expanded country cancer services and are investing $20 million in supporting our rural health workforce.

We are now also making changes to the Patient Assistance Transport Scheme—or PATS, as it is commonly known—to build in more flexibility for country South Australians. I would like to acknowledge the representations that I have received from country members of parliament and their constituents in this regard. I attended PATS forums in both Port Augusta and Mount Gambier, organised by the local members, and the government has listened to the feedback and is now delivering changes to the scheme to make it fairer and, importantly, more compassionate to people in often challenging circumstances.

In the past, there were limits set on patients coming to Adelaide regarding the number of nights they could spend in Adelaide before and after their medical specialist appointment: two additional nights in commercial accommodation or five additional nights with family and friends. This has had a punitive effect on country South Australians. Faced with an often long trip, they quite sensibly wanted to rationalise their time in Adelaide by making non-medical appointments around their medical specialist appointments, perhaps staying in town for a second medical appointment, or just taking time to recuperate before they headed back on the road.

The Marshall Liberal government has now lifted this restriction as well as removing the requirement that patients only travel directly to and from their appointment. A further change will assist terminally ill patients through providing for better continuity of care. Before this change, patients with less than 12 months to live had to make use of their nearest specialist to be able to receive a PATS payment, as do other patients under the scheme.

The government realises that this can cause unnecessary disruption for patients and families during the last months of their life and we have removed this requirement for patients with a life expectancy of 12 months or less. These changes will make the scheme better adapted to the needs—medical and personal—of country South Australians and ensure it operates with more compassion and care from our health services. The Marshall Liberal government is delivering better services for country South Australia and will continue to work to redress the imbalance that we have inherited.