Ambulance charge increase angers

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014
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A near 40 per cent increase in the cost of travelling in an ambulance in non-emergency situations has been labelled outrageous.

St John has increased charges for its non urgent ambulance service, meaning a trip home to South Taranaki from Base Hospital could cost around $400. A one-way journey within New Plymouth - less than 35 kilometres - was now $200, up from $145.

Charges went up 38 per cent this month for trips where people booked a non-emergency ambulance - for example travelling home from hospital.

Last year 162 Taranaki residents used the service.

Travelling between 36km and 100km costs $5.66 per km.

The increase was "outrageous", Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor said.

"How do they justify that? Aged care facilities are going to be hit very hard. If resthomes 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."

If someone breaks their leg, ACC covers the charge to the hospital, but the return trip is paid by the resthome 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?"

Often the elderly people were not well enough to take a taxi.

There needed to be some understanding that people who lived in rural areas, as in Taranaki, should not have to pay significantly higher costs, Mr Taylor said.

St John Operations director Michael Brooke said distance from services was one of the challenges of rural and remote communities. And St John offered other non-emergency transport services, such as the health shuttle service it planned to start in South Taranaki in April.

The charges for the non-urgent use of an ambulance had not increased in more than four years and the percentage change was large because the base charge was low, Mr Brooke said.

"We are increasing them to better reflect the actual costs - especially given the clinical expertise required of the St John staff providing this service.

"Even including these recent increases, the rate for the private hire of an ambulance is inadequate; effectively individuals are being subsidised by our other funders."

In the 2012/13 financial year, St John transported more than 18,000 non-emergency, private hire patients across New Zealand, which was a 10 per cent increase over the last five years, he said.

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