LOCAL mental health services, which are already severely lacking, will become a “joke”, according to Health and Community Services Union secretary Lloyd Williams.
And patients in outlying areas could be left without a nearby ambulance service under the changes, according to Ambulance Employees Australia secretary Steve McGhie.
Bendigo Health will cut out-of-hours on-call services in areas including Castlemaine, Kyneton, Echuca and Maryborough following a reduction in government funding.
Patients presenting at outlying hospitals out of business hours will need to be transported to Bendigo for treatment.
Mr Williams said people with mental illness had the condition 24 hours a day, not just during business hours.
“It’s very much a skeleton service as it is,” he said.
“It’s not an active service at each hospital at Maryborough, Kyneton or Castlemaine, they use the facilities on an on-call basis.
“To remove that will only place more pressure on people to be able to get support in a crisis situation.”
Mr Williams said he didn’t believe the cuts, valued at $100,000, were the result of the federal funding loss as claimed by Bendigo Health.
“Bendigo Health has tried it on before about three years ago and it had nothing to do with funding cuts then,” he said.
“It will put pressure on paramedics and police and also Bendigo’s emergency department, leaving more people with mental illness waiting to receive support.”
Mr McGhie said patients’ lives would be compromised at best, and at worst, lost.
He said areas like Castlemaine only had one ambulance crew, which could be used to transport mental health patients to Bendigo, leaving the town reliant on ambulances from Bendigo.
“The politicians have got to stop playing politics with people’s lives,” he said.
“They’ve got to start putting people, the patients first.
“They’ve got resolve these budgetary or cutback issues.”
Bendigo Health Psychiatric Services acting executive director Vic Tripp apologised to those affected by the changes.
“Since notification of these funding cuts we have always stated that there would be inevitable negative impacts on our services and the stark reality of these cuts is now coming to light,” he said.
“Psychiatric and mental health services are not immune from these cuts and we have had to make decisions accordingly.
“We apologise to our patients, their families and our staff for the impact that these cuts will have on their lives.
“Had we been given reasonable notice and time to plan we are confident that we could have managed a far better outcome for all.”