Cancer patients in Hedland are having to take five-hour road trips in their own cars or rely on friends and charities to get them to and from life-saving appointments. Hedland resident Marie Mason is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and travels weekly to Karratha for her treatment. Prior to the establishment of the tele-chemo centre in Karratha in 2019, WA Country Health’s Patient Assisted Travel Scheme flew cancer patients in the Pilbara to Perth for treatment. When this stopped, Ms Mason was offered fuel vouchers by PATS to cover the cost of the round trip to Karratha and was told she should call on friends and family for transport. Ms Mason said it was a “big deal” to rely on her family and friends to take her to Karratha every week. “Two-and-a-half hours down there, two-and-a-half hours for treatment and then two-and-a-half hours back, it mucks up rosters, childcare, lots of things,” she said. A friend of Ms Mason’s offered to drive her to her appointments but also fell ill and wasn’t able to drive her any more. “When she couldn’t drive me, I was up the creek for a ride to Karratha,” Ms Mason said. It was then that Ms Mason was put in touch with cancer support service Reach Us Pilbara who have funded Hedland-based ride share service H-Ride to help her and other Hedlanders get to appointments. Reach Us Pilbara support services co-ordinator Jasmine Ashcroft said funding the trips had come at huge expense to the non-profit. “Patients should not be driving immediately after chemotherapy treatment and cannot be expected to drive themselves,” she said. “H Ride have been great and are helping us out with a discounted rate but it is still quite a big cost every week.” WA Country Health Service regional director Margi Faulkner said PATS supported patients financially should they need to travel to receive treatment. “PATS can aid Pilbara patients needing to travel from Port Hedland to Karratha for medical care through provision of a travel subsidy such as a fuel subsidy or full cost of a bus ticket for those who are unable to drive,” she said. “In recognition that often bus arrival and departure times are not appropriate for people who are unwell, PATS can also assist via an accommodation subsidy. Where medically required, escorts who travel with the patient are also able to receive this support.” Integrity Bus coaches run three Port Hedland to Karratha bus services weekly, with the earliest leaving at 2.40am and the latest at 3.30am. Ms Faulkner said whether or not people should drive after receiving treatment was decided by the patient and their treatment team. “Medical advice regarding a patient’s condition and their ability to travel is discussed between the treating clinician and patient and is dependent on variables such as the patient’s general health and wellbeing, fatigue and dosage of treatment provided,” she said. Hedland Well Women’s Centre advocacy support worker Karen Cooper said while the chemo services in Karratha were welcome, the travel for Hedland residents had been tough. “Hedland is a working town, and a lot of people here are isolated from the normal supports of family so having a readily available person who can drive them sometimes weekly to Karratha can be challenging,” she said. “I have been told of a person who was in the position where they were considering not to have treatment as the cost to the support person and the barriers were too much. “Without twice daily public transport that fits in with treatment timing, patients are left trying to work out how to access the vital medical care they need locally and in Perth.” Shadow regional health minister Martin Aldridge said PATS was overdue for an overhaul. “It’s a great program, but it will only remain great if government continues to invest in it and modernise it,” he said. “The State Government is sitting on a $5.8 billion surplus, much of it earned on the financial and economic success of the Pilbara over the last year or two. “I would have thought this would be a great opportunity for them to give something back and make sure that these cancer patients can access care in and kind and caring way.” Mr Aldridge said creating disincentives for people to access services locally would add pressure to a health system already under “critical stress”. “The State needs to do the right thing for the patients in Port Hedland and also in the interests of the health system to make sure that these types of issues, like getting patients to the care they need in a reasonable way, are addressed,” he said.