Health | May 21, 2021

Budget falls short on Wimmera mental health supports

Member for Lowan Emma Kealy is outraged the government has cut a critical mental health outreach program in a budget that purports to be focussed on improving mental health support.

The 2021-22 State Budget tabled yesterday made no mention of funding to continue the well-established and proven Rural Outreach Program, which operates through Wimmera Primary Care Partnership across West Wimmera, Hindmarsh, Horsham and Yarriambiack council areas.

With funding for this critical mental health service due to end on June 30, Ms Kealy said it was now critical that the Andrews Labor Government explained why they were cutting one of the only frontline public mental health support services available in the local area.

Ms Kealy said communities in the Lowan electorate were crying out for improved mental health supports, and clinical outreach services were among the many that were desperately needed. While the budget announced some services for Horsham and Hamilton, the Rural Outreach Program missed out.

Ms Kealy said any funding for new mental health services should not come at the expense of funding security for already existing successful programs, such as the Rural Outreach Program.

“Labor has no plan to improve health outcomes for Victorians. Instead they continue to increase taxes to pay for a failing system with worse outcomes,” she said.

“The government has been handing out temporary last-minute lifelines to the Rural Outreach Program for the past few years, but has failed to outline in the budget whether this crucial program will have the funding to continue after June 30.

“Will the new clinical outreach services the government announced replicate the Rural Outreach Program, or is this trusted and proved program being lost altogether, along with the fantastic mental health workers it employs?

“For this program to miss out of funding, after providing support to more than 1300 people in the Hindmarsh, Horsham Rural City, West Wimmera and Yarriambiack council areas, would be an absolute travesty.

“The government must urgently provide emergency funding to ensure the Rural Outreach Program will be able to continue the great work it does to provide critical mental health support for our region.”

Ms Kealy also expressed disappointment that the Andrews Labor Government had not allocated any money for mental health beds in Lowan in the budget. She said the little funding that was allocated for mental health simply wasn’t near enough to address the critical shortage of services across the region.

“The Minister for Mental Health yesterday said that every Victorian deserves the same level of mental health support no matter where they live. But despite the significant gaps in access to support in our communities, the government has again failed to fully address,” she said.

“For years we’ve been hearing the Andrews Labor Government excuse their neglect of the mental health sector by saying they won’t do anything until the Royal Commission handed down its findings. Now we’re seeing the impact of that neglect, with a critical mental health workforce shortage that will take years to address, and extremely limited mental health services for rural areas of Victoria.

“It’s simply not good enough for Labor to put out a media release to say they’ve fixed mental health when local people still can’t the support they need, when they need it, and there is no support for them while they wait months for an appointment.

“Shires in our area have some of the highest suicide rates in Victoria. Many people are stuck on waitlists for months or forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to the next available support service, and further still for crisis-level support.

“Victoria’s mental health system remains in crisis, and sadly this budget signifies Victorians will be waiting for a very long time until we get the local mental health services and supports we need.”

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