One-way patients leave us a massive bill

 

TAXPAYERS have been forced to shell out more than $250,000 in a year for Cape York patients flown to Cairns for medical treatment who missed their flights home.

A total of 470 plane seats were left empty during the 2018/19 financial year for patients who were provided free transport and accommodation to access better health facilities at the region's biggest hospital.

The figures, obtained from the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, showed the flight costs had jumped almost $55,000 compared to the previous year - an extra 89 missed flights. Total flight costs for the year were just over $6.2 million.

A number of Cape York patients flown to Cairns for medical treatment who missed their flights home.
A number of Cape York patients flown to Cairns for medical treatment who missed their flights home.

Police have previously identified those stranded passengers as being a major contributor of Cairns' itinerant population.

The Cairns City Police Beat runs a Return to Country program which has supported 104 people to return to Cape York in the past four years at a cost of $99.

However, the Department of Transport and Main Roads contributed the rest of the fare, meaning taxpayers were stung twice to get some people home.

TCHHS chief executive Bev Hamerton said they were "very conscious" of the need to get people back to their communities quickly and safely after completing treatment.

A total of 470 plane seats were left empty during the 2018/19 financial year for patients who were provided free transport to Cairns Hospital. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN
A total of 470 plane seats were left empty during the 2018/19 financial year for patients who were provided free transport to Cairns Hospital. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN

She said they had nine Nurse Navigators around the region, including five in Cairns, to assist with patient movements and were the only HHS in the state that had two indigenous support officers, given 96 per cent of their patients were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

"In addition, we are in the process of employing an additional two Indigenous Liaison Officers and a social worker to further support the smooth movement of patients to and from Cairns back to their home communities, as well as to liaise with other health and welfare agencies in Cairns that we partner with," she said.

Ms Hamerton said incidental costs were not subsidised, but they had partnerships with non-government agencies in Cairns including Red Cross, Apunipima Cape York Health Council, NAPHL and Mookai Rosie Bi-Bayan.

Cairns City Police Beat boss Sen-Sgt Gary Hunter said the reasons most of the itinerant population had travelled to Cairns were for health and specialist treatment, release from prison, a court appearance or were attending the annual Cairns Show.

"The program addresses the local homelessness issue by providing a method of returning home and not sleeping rough in Cairns," he said.

HOW IT STACKS UP

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service

Total cost flight transfers

2018-19 - $6,273,252

2017-18 - $5,755,356

Total number of flight transfers

2018-19 - 16,173

2017-18 - 15,921

Total cost of missed transfers

2018-19 - $256,112

2017-18 - $201,561

Total number of number of flight transfers missed

2018-19 - 470

2017-18 - 381



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