Sick patients coming from the bush for treatment in the city will now pay less for travel, as a result of a campaign by The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph.
In a win for the Telegraph’s Heal the Bush campaign, the travel subsidy given to patients will increase from $43-a-night to between $80 and $105 per night.
The changes to the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS) will take effect in September.
Previously, when patients from the bush required treatment in the city, the cost of travel was one of the biggest hurdles, according to The Sunday Telegraph deputy editor Claire Harvey.
“Now, if you have to come to Sydney for chemotherapy, you get $80 a night, which is probably not going to buy you a room in the Hilton, but it will really help you with the cost of staying in a motel,” she said.
To research this story, The Daily Telegraph reporter Sue Dunlevy investigated accommodation options, and findings were grim, said Ms Harvey.
“Sue went to find a hotel in Sydney that you could get for that, and all she could find was a room in a backpacker’s dorm,” she said.
This is not the only win for the campaign. Previously, federal incentives for general practitioners to go to the country were increased from $47,000 a year to $60,000, and a petrol subsidy for patients travelling to the city was increased from 19 cents to 22 cents.
The campaign has been well received by readers. Most of the responses have been from residents in the bush, but readers from the city have also been very supportive.
“It’s surprising to us how much bush stories cut through in terms of metropolitan readers,” Ms Harvey said. “Whenever we do stories on the bush, they rate really well in the city as well, so people do care.”
The successful outcome of the campaign comes off the back of a great year of campaigning by The Sunday Telegraph, said Ms Harvey.
“The reason we’re good at campaigning is we can keep returning to an issue. People actually like us to keep coming back to something,” she said.
“I think there’s a miss in news that everything has to be a new topic, everything has to be fresh, and you can’t revisit things you’ve already done but, in fact, you’re only going to get momentum if you keep at it.”
Ms Harvey believes the paper’s persistence in covering an issue is also what its readers require.
“I think personally, and I know Mick Carroll (editor of The Sunday Telegraph) believes very strongly, that our readers expect us to campaign for them, and we enjoy it and we can get results, so it’s a good time to do it,” she said.
Keeping the pressure up was also a challenge for the paper. “It’s very easy to just drop off. But I think once you’ve made the decision to go for it, you have to keep going, because otherwise why would anyone listen to you? Why would a government listen to you?” Ms Harvey said.
Another challenge was dealing with politicians. “It’s being prepared to take on a senior figure completely respectfully. It’s about finding that right balance between persuasion and hectoring,” Ms Harvey said.
“We do actually want them to do what we want so we can’t belittle them or imply that they don’t care, we have to make it seem like a good outcome for them as well.”
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner is thankful for the Telegraph’s work in bringing this issue to light. “I thank any media outlet for their interest in the NSW Government’s regional health achievements,” she said in an email.
“I’m pleased The Daily Telegraph has taken such an active interest in the reform of IPTAAS and continues to report on the scheme’s developments.”
The campaign has achieved a lot, but there is still more to do. “I think we still have a long way to go with this campaign. It actually needs a complete shift of thinking from state and federal government about the way they run health in the bush,” Ms Harvey said.
The next step for the campaign is to look at the re-opening of birth units in the bush. Currently, many birth units have closed down or not staffed.
“It means that everyone who has a child in that part of NSW has to either drive to another major town, maybe five hours away, four weeks before the baby is born, and then pay for every night in a motel for that town, leaving behind the farm and little children. Often so it’s really, really hard,” Ms Harvey said.