Ballarat Community Health still waiting for state health budget cuts
The Ballarat Courier
24 April 2023
CUTS to community preventative health programs, such as those targeting soaring vaping rates or promoting disability inclusion, remain in a state of flux after meetings with the health minister's office.
Ballarat Community Health chief executive Sean Duffy said it appeared state funding slash was not as big as had first been flagged, but the impacts would still be felt on health promotion buckets.
Initial, unexpected phone calls to community health leaders across the region a week ago had suggested cuts in funding by as much as 15 per cent on proactive and preventative programs. This could force job losses.
Mr Duffy said the full extent of funding pulls, and exactly which programs and areas this might affect, was unlikely to be known until the state budget, to be released on May 23.
"We've not been officially advised but we believe there will be no further cuts," Mr Duffy said. "We will lose some funding, just not all we had thought, but we're still trying to understand how this will impact programs."
This comes as independent community health organisations across the state continue to unite in a Community Health First campaign, calling on the state government to better recognise holistic health including social factors.
Mr Duffy has also previously made clear there has been widespread worsening health factors amid the rising cost of living as people grappled with letting go of health choices such as dental, mental health and healthy foods.
This in turn put extra pressure on hospitals and health services, as was already being felt at Ballarat Community Health.
Victoria's community health sector has not received any substantial funding increase in more than a decade.
It is understood state government department leads must cut their budgets, largely to deal with the government's hit from rising interest rates.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews last week said community health cuts were to avoid "double-ups" with public health units but Mr Duffy made clear this was misguided because the relatively newly established public health units had more of a monitoring role.
Community health programs have been embedded in the community for 50 years and specialise in working with people who face the greatest barriers to good health and wellbeing. This can include those experiencing homelessness, people living with disability and experiences of mental ill-health, First Nations people, members of the LGBTIQA+ community, refugees and asylum seeker communities, and people who use alcohol and other drugs.
Proposed community health cuts come as the government's $541.6 million overhaul and expansion of Grampians Health Ballarat Base Hospital continues.
Mr Duffy has said it was "perplexing" the government make such a snap funding response when investment in proactive community health was working to keep people out of hospitals.