Transport for medical appointments

Graham Clements
Summary 
Travel to medical appointments can be difficult and costly for country people. Last year I had to travel to Melbourne for surgery. I had to pay for a train to the appointment. But I then used a free Red Cross car to return home. I relaxed in the car. It was better than a long train trip home. Red Cross cars are available throughout Victoria. Some regional councils and health groups offer a similar car service. Recently I read about the Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme. It could have paid for my train trip to the surgery.
Posted by: 
Graham Clements on 01/03/2012
A highway with a few cars in the distance.
highway

I could relax in a car after my surgery.

Last year I needed to travel from Wangaratta to Melbourne for oral surgery. The surgeon was adamant that someone accompany me home.

My sister agreed to help but became ill. So I called an aunty who lived in Melbourne. I asked her to meet me after my surgery and drop me at Southern Cross Station. She agreed, but then had second thoughts. She thought it might not be a good idea for me to travel home alone. She suggested I use a Red Cross car instead.

Red Cross cars

The Red Cross Patient Transport Service assists people with transport to specialist medical appointments. The service is free and operates throughout Victoria.

Red Cross cars are driven by volunteers, not paid paramedics. So patients may be required to provide a carer to look after them during the trip. The service does not take bookings directly from patients. Only the medical centre the patient is visiting can make the booking. The patient needs to confirm the booking two days before the trip.

Luckily for me, a car was already heading back to Wangaratta on the day of my appointment. They were happy to pick me up as well. The surgery left me groggy and with some bleeding. So I was glad I did not have to wait at the station and endure a long train ride. Instead I relaxed in the Red Cross car. Happy with the service, I gave the driver a donation for the Red Cross.

To find out if the Red Cross car service operates in your area call (03) 8327 7868.

Victorian Patient Transport Assistant Scheme

The Victorian Department of Health has a Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme (VPTAS). It is for rural Victorians who have no choice but to travel long distances for medical appointments.

VPTAS covers travel and a small part of accommodation costs. If a patient requires an escort, the escort's costs are similarly covered. The patient needs to have a heathcare, pensioner or veteran's card. A single trip needs to be over 100 kilometres. Or the patient must travel more than 500 kilometres per week for five weeks.

The scheme provides a full concession fare reimbursement for public transport. If a private car is used the scheme pays 17 cents for each kilometre travelled. Air travel is also covered if the journey exceeds 350 kilometres. VTPAS claim forms are available online and from the Department of Health.

If I had known about VPTAS earlier I could have had my train fare to the surgery reimbursed.

http://www.health.vic.gov.au/ruralhealth/vptas/

Community cars

Some councils and health services have community car programs. For example, the Indigo Shire has cars with volunteer drivers for use within the shire. The cars are available for people with disabilities. They need to be booked two days in advance.

The East Wimmera Health Service has a community car based in St Arnaud. People can use the car to travel to appointments as far away as Melbourne. The car costs 15 cents a kilometre but that can be claimed back through VTPAS. Many other councils and health services have community cars or similar services.

Readers comments (4)

Many thanks for the info - very helpful! Please provide the 'updates' as often as you can :) Also, please check out the following: (1) Victorian Taxi Directorate for 1/2 price Taxi Card - the applicant must pass the eligibility criteria and (2) Travellers Aid 'Melbourne Medical Companion' to access free travel for health care in the city, it's self referral & bookings essential. Please read FAQ Who is Eligible.

Your article is quite helpful regarding the Red cross travel - I do wonder if they have any wheelchair accessible vehicles though.

With the VPTAS, from my experience, I don't find it the system as helpful. As you said, accommodation compensation is quite small. For my regular visits to a clinic twice a year the accommodation will not automatically be covered. I live at least 300 km away from Melbourne. I need to be there early in the morning (sometimes 9 AM) I don't usefully get away before 5 or 6 PM. Because it is only one day at the hospital, none of the accommodation costs will be covered. Along with taxi fares to Clayton (Monash medical Centre) the entire trip will cost me at least $400 twice a year. All that I get compensated for by the scheme is by train fares (no more than $50).

Hi, I'm also a country person and have have RA which makes it really difficult to drive the long distances to appointments in Melbourne. The train isn't an option as my immune system is screwed up (I get sick easily) and there's also a fair bit of walking involved from the train to the taxi and vice versa.

Sometimes my appointments last hours (due to having to wait if the specialist is running behind schedule). Do the above mentioned services accommodate that kind of problem...eg. if I book myself for transport help for a certain time but don't get out of the appointment till some time later, what happens?

Hi K,

You will need to contact the services to find out. It is some time since I wrote the original article so the situation could have changed. As I said in the article I used the Red Cross Car to return from a medical appointment. The car was already going down from Wangaratta to Melbourne to pick up another patient, so they agreed to pick me up too, which meant I would have to wait an hour if my oral surgery was on time. But of course it wasn't. I rang the service to inform them I could be late, but they were already delayed by the other patient. The other patient in the end was too sick to travel. I ended up waiting about half an hour for the car to arrive. So I think the Red Cross cars give you a bit of leeway. I hope you find a suitable transport option.

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