Sydney-based doctors who travel to treat patients in regional New South Wales are concerned Rex Airlines’ decision to cut flights will put more pressure on limited access to healthcare in the bush.
Doctors say patients may defer treatment if they cannot travel by air
The mayor of a regional NSW city says other services are likely to be affected by Rex’s decision
Other carriers have also announced reductions to domestic services
On Friday the regional carrier announced services would be reduced across the state and that the Sydney to Armidale route would be suspended until March 2024.
Rex has reduced its Sydney services from seven regional cities, including Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Parkes and Orange.
In a statement, the airline said it hoped the measures would be temporary.
Carsten Palme regularly travels to Port Macquarie and other regional centres as part of an outreach program with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a not-for-profit cancer hospital based in Sydney.
Professor Palme said fewer flight options could lead to patients deferring referrals or treatment instead of driving to appointments in major cities.
“When you think about the distances that people have to drive – and then it’s the time away from work, their carers, their families – it’s a significant drain on patients,” he said.
“By delaying their care they’re actually going to cost us a lot more as a society when they present in later stages.”
For the past 20 years, neurosurgeon Marcus Stoodley has travelled to Coffs Harbour and other regional locations to provide specialist healthcare.
He said it used to be possible to fly in and out in one day, but that flexibility was gone.
Professor Stoodley said if the cuts ended up being permanent it could stop some specialists travelling to regional centres for good.
“If it’s taking three days out of the week because of the travel constraints, then it may be the specialist decides to stop,” he said.
“It’s not feasible to do that and so they’ll stop doing that clinic.”
Matthew Dickerson, the chair of peak body Regional Cities New South Wales, said Rex acted as a “lifeline” for regional communities.
Cr Dickerson, who is also the Mayor of Dubbo, has also raised concerns about what the loss of flights means for access to important medical services for people living outside cities.
“It also goes the other way — it’s not just regional people that are going to Sydney for various activities, there are people that come out and provide services to regional locations” he said.
“We might have specialist doctors, or specialists in a certain field might be coming out to do some consultancy work, and that might change when they can come.”
The latest announcement follows similar decisions in other states and from other airlines, including Virgin and Bonza.
The ABC has contacted Rex Airlines for comment.
In 2018, a Rex submission to a federal standing committee on regional air routes noted that low passenger numbers, airport costs and pilot shortages were all contributing to prices on regional routes.
Minister for Regional NSW Tara Moriarty said in a statement that access to air services was important for regional communities.
“We work closely with communities to understand their needs regarding transport access and assist communities that have minimal options,” she said.
The ABC has also contacted federal Transport and Regional Development Minister Catherine King for comment.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-23/rex-airlines-service-cuts-spark-healthcare-fears/102893276 Rex Airlines route suspensions spark fears for health services in regional Australia