The centralisation of specialist health services may be supported by sound clinical and financial reasons but it does increase the costs for people who live outside the main centres.
Health Minister Tony Ryall has recognised that by increasing the amount patients can claim under the National Travel Assistance scheme for the first time in 20 years.
The eight cent increase takes the assistance up to 28 cents a kilometre and the accommodation rate has also been increased to $100 a night.
No-one is pretending this will fully cover travel and accommodation costs for patients.
The NTA support has always been a help rather than a reimbursement. But in tough financial times every bit extra will help, especially for people who have health issues that are not easy to manage close to home,” Mr Ryall said.
When you choose to live in the country or a small town you accept that you won’t get the same level of health services which are available in cities but long distance or frequent travel and accommodation can be expensive and add to the stress of illness.
Most referrals to specialists will be from GPs rather than other specialists so won’t qualify for the assistance so the increase in assistance isn’t a miracle cure, but it will provide some relief.
Information on who is eligible and how to claim is available on the Ministry of Health website.