Warren MLA Paul Omodei's recent criticism of the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme was uninformed and besmirched the professional integrity of Health Department officers who administer the scheme, Acting Health Minister Ernie Bridge said today.
"Mr Omodei should inform himself better about PATS and stop his blundering attempts to create an issue where there is none," Mr Bridge said.
"He should know that personal clinical details are not required on the application form.
"However, where the patient is being referred to other than the nearest specialist, a valid medical reason is required. This need only be that the particular procedure or treatment is not available locally.
"Health Department employees are bound to honour the confidentiality of information they receive as part of their duties.
"If Mr Omodei has evidence of any breach of confidentiality he should produce it. If not, he should stop casting slurs on the integrity of professional health workers and let them get on with their jobs."
Mr Bridge said Mr Omodei kept raising queries to which he had already received replies.
"Mr Wilson's office has records of a steady stream of correspondence from Mr Omodei, and he has received many letters from the Minister in response," he said.
"The latest was on July 8 when I wrote to him as acting Health Minister, pointing out that an increasing number of specialists are now servicing country regions and for the purpose of PATS patients must be referred to the nearest visiting or resident specialist.
"If the patient requires follow-up treatment, specialists in the region may be able to offer this service.
"What Mr Omodei must understand is that PATS is designed to help people visit the nearest available specialist - not to bypass regional or visiting specialists in favour of others.
"If this happened on any scale, it would undermine the Government's efforts to encourage specialist medical services in country areas."
Mr Bridge said it was outrageous for Mr Omodei to suggest the Government had made PATS benefits difficult to obtain.
"The Government has increased spending on PATS from $5.2 million in 1987/88 to $7.3 million last financial year," he said.
"PATS helps almost 30,000 country people a year to gain access to specialist medical services.
"The Health Department will continue monitoring its operation, and the regional directors are available in the first instance to deal with any specific concerns anyone has about the scheme.
"Health Minister Keith Wilson is always willing to consider specific cases where people feel they have not received a fair deal at regional level.
"Mr Omodei has done himself no credit in the way he has handled this matter."