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Victorian Government under heavy fire over cuts to community health funding

Victorian Government under heavy fire over cuts to community health funding

Croakey Health Media
20 April 2023

Health leaders and organisations have strongly condemned Victorian Government plans to cut health promotion funding to community health services.

The Victorian Healthcare Association (VHA), Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA) and service providers have called on the State Government to drop its planned cuts, which are expected to affect 45 community health services.

A campaign, #StopTheCutsVictoria, is urging supporters to email their local MP and ask them to lobby the Minister for Health and Treasurer.

On 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, according to a VHA statement.

“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,” said the statement.

“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.”

The VHA’s acting CEO, Juan Paolo Legaspi, said that while Victoria’s 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 people healthy and adequately funding health services to deliver timely care now.

Appalling decision

Public health leader Professor Fran Baum described the move as “health policy madness”, while another former president of the Public Health Association of Australia, Adjunct Professor Helen Keleher, said it was an “appalling decision” by the Andrews Government.

“Cutting funding for frontline CHS healthcare in order to pay for more hospitals which require massive upfront and ongoing funding is so short-sighted,” Keleher said on Twitter.

“All the evidence about investing in health points to the need to increase prevention and early intervention, not cut it.”

An AHPA statement said the decision to cut ten percent of health promotion funding for community health services is “irresponsible and short-sighted”.

AHPA Victoria and Tasmania Co-President David Towl said a cut of this scale would mean fewer services.

“Community health services are the key provider of local-level health promotion in Victoria and employ more than 500 health promotion practitioners across the state. This will result in job losses and a reduction in services for those most at risk.”

Merri Health Acting CEO Maryanne Tadic said cuts to health prevention programs would put the wellbeing of vulnerable Victorians and the wider health system at risk and increase costs in the long term.

Merri Health delivers health promotion programs across Merri-bek in Melbourne’s north, supporting many communities where the greatest health disparities exist.

“Funding will affect our ability to deliver health promotion programs that address key health issues including improving mental health, with a focus on social inclusion; preventing violence, and increasing the participation of girls and women in physical activity,” she said in a statement.

“Our health promotion programs directly reached more than 13,500 people in 2021-22, including multicultural and newly arrived communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and LGBTIQA+ communities.”

Community health services have the unique local knowledge, trusted relationships and networks to deliver highly targeted and cost-effective services that respond directly to local needs, she said.

“By delivering tailored, place-based programs, we connect priority communities with each other, with essential local services and the opportunities they need to support themselves and their families to stay well.”

Easy target

David Towl told Croakey that it was concerning that health promotion is seen as an easy target and not ‘on the frontline’.

“As a sector we need to change this perception,” he said.

“Our focus will be on encouraging members and the broader sector to have conversations with decision makers that raises the profile of health promotion and prevention.”

Towl urged Croakey readers to consider raising the issues, and to visit the campaign page, send an email to your local MP or to the Health Minister, as well as sharing social media posts on LinkedIn and Twitter.

“We have sought a meeting with the Minister for Health, we are yet to hear back,” he said.

According to an ABC report, Premier Daniel Andrews said the upcoming cuts were flagged in previous budgets and were due to “a whole lot of services that were basically double-ups”, especially as new local public health units were funded across the state.

“We’ve got all manner of different programs that are being delivered, and we don’t need multiple different services providing the same thing,” he said.

In the lead up to the Victorian election last year, many Croakey articles highlighted the focus of the Andrews Government and Victorian media upon hospitals rather than public health and prevention.

Victoria – the state that can spend vast sums building a specialist cardiac hospital but is intent on slashing investment in preventing problems such as heart disease.

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