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VHA urges Victorian Government to reconsider public health cuts

VHA urges Victorian Government to reconsider public health cuts

VHA Media Release
15 April 2023

The Victorian Healthcare Association (VHA) is urging the state government to abandon its plan to slash millions of dollars from preventative healthcare in the May budget.

On Friday 14 April, the Victorian Department of Health contacted many of Victoria’s community health services to inform them of looming budget cuts to their health promotion programs. The VHA understands the decision involves millions of dollars being cut from the budget and will affect 45 community health services, resulting in job losses and service reductions.

It is unclear which services community health providers will have to cut, but they currently deliver a broad range of preventative health interventions including programs that aim to increase healthy eating and active living, and reduce tobacco and vaping related harm.

Acting CEO of the VHA Juan Paolo Legaspi condemned the decision, saying it was a short-sighted move that should be reconsidered to protect Victorians and their health system from being overwhelmed.

‘This will reduce access to health programs that keep people well and out of our busy hospitals at a time when we desperately need to take the pressure off,’ he said.

‘Our health system is seeing an unprecedented rise in sicker people needing more complex health care due to a lack of prevention and delayed and deferred care since the pandemic began. If we don’t do enough to slow this trend down, people are going to wait longer and longer for ambulances and hospital care.’

Mr Legaspi said community health service CEOs were devastated by the news because they have first-hand experience of how life-changing and cost-effective preventative care is for their communities, especially when people are forgoing healthcare due to the cost-of-living crisis.

‘They feel sick about the job losses and the impact this will have on vulnerable people in their local communities, as well as the entire health system. We know that investing in prevention pays off over time.’

In 2020–21, there were 556,000 avoidable presentations to Victorian emergency departments that could have been diverted had primary or community healthcare been available, according to the Productivity Commission. A 2019 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicated that more than 20 per cent of hospitalisations for Victorians aged over 65 could have been prevented by appropriate care in primary health and community settings.

Mr Legaspi said that while the May budget is likely to include billions of dollars to build new hospitals over the next decade, this should not come at the cost of keeping Victorians healthy and adequately funding health services to deliver timely care now.

‘Victoria’s 81 community health services have been trapped in a cycle of ‘boom and bust’ funding. This affects their ability to plan, attract and retain staff, and deliver services that meet the increasingly complex needs of Victoria’s growing and ageing population,’ he said.

‘This is not the right time to cut funding to programs that help people stay well and out of our stretched hospital system.’

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