St John price hikes worrying

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014

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A price hike for travel in an ambulance in non-emergency situations has been labelled disgusting and hugely unfair on aged-care facilities in southern rural areas.

St John ambulance has lifted its charges by 38 per cent for those needing non-urgent transport between their home, rest home or hospital.

A one-way journey between Riverton and Invercargill could cost $230, while a trip within Invercargill and nearby communities - less than 35 kilometres - would cost a patient $200, up from $145.

Charges went up last month for a non-emergency ambulance trip - for example, travelling home from hospital.

Travelling between 36km and 100km costs $5.66 per kilometre while travelling between 101km and 400km cost $6.21 per kilometre.

Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor said the new charges were disgusting and could potentially make it unaffordable for some small rest homes.

"Aged-care facilities in Southland and Otago are going to be hit very hard. If rest homes are getting $110 a day for a resident and then have to pay $200 each way for someone to go to hospital, it's an outrageous price."

At a small rest home with 20 to 30 residents, the extra costs may mean discretionary activities such as special day trips and outings could be cut back, he said.

If someone breaks their leg, ACC covers the charge to the hospital, but the return trip is paid by the rest home, or the individual if they live independently, he said.

"Is that charge really fitting for someone on a pension? It's exceedingly unfair. Did St John consider the effect on aged-care providers?"

Aged Care Association Otago Southland board member Malcolm Hendry said the region had quite a few aged-care facilities that could cost more than $500 for a transfer.

For those already struggling to meet costs, the new charges would be a real worry.

Age Concern Southland manager Janette Turner said the organisation had grave concerns about the impact of the price hikes on the region's elderly.

"Already, many of those living at home who do not have family, a means of transport or were not well enough to take a taxi could not afford the old charges," she said.

St John operations director Michael Brooke said distance from services was one of the challenges of rural and remote communities.

The charges for the service had not increased in more than four years.

Despite the increase, the rate for the private hire of an ambulance was inadequate, Mr Brooker said.

"Effectively, individuals are being subsidised by our other funders."

St John did offer other non-emergency transport services, he said.

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In the past 12 months, St John co-ordinated more than 10,500 Health Shuttle client trips in the South Island and in late 2012 introduced a shuttle in Wakatipu and a service bringing patients from Invercargill to Dunedin and back.

- The Southland Times

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