Ambulance solution near

By ED SOUTHORN

TWEED MP Neville Newell believes he is close to victory in his efforts to gain Labor Party support to fix a cross-border ambulance fees fiasco.

But although Mr Newell yesterday said NSW Labor's Country Conference at the weekend voted to support his call to send a "loud and clear message" to senior government decision-makers, there has not yet been an announcement of a solution to the problem.

Mr Newell said he was nevertheless hopeful an interim solution will soon be revealed, possibly this week, which could result in a NSW government rebate or reimbursement for any NSW pensioner caught in Queensland with an $860 cross-border ambulance fee.

It is understood the annual cost of such a measure is an estimated $2 million, and even though the sum may be relatively inexpensive Mr Newell argued it was not cheap.

"NSW is not like the federal government, we are not awash with money," he said.

He said he had discussed the cross-border ambulance charges with Health Minister John Hatzistergos at the conference in Queanbeyan on Saturday.

But Mr Hatzistergos did not address the conference on the ambulance charges problem, exposed by Daily News reports of Tweed pensioners faced with costly ambulance rides from the Gold Coast to The Tweed Hospital.

The fees fiasco emerged after the breakdown of a reciprocal fees arrangement between Queensland and NSW which has led to Queensland charging NSW uninsured patients directly for ambulance rides in Queensland.

Mr Newell, after collecting hundreds of names on a petition calling for a solution, has suggested NSW apply the same charges for Queensland ambulance patients in NSW, until the problem is fixed.

He said any reimbursement for NSW patients would only be an interim measure, before Mr Hatzistergos meets with other health ministers in a few weeks.

"We need to take immediate action, the time for talk is over," he said. "The minister has assured me this weekend that he is working hard to remedy this situation."



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