Health services impacted by funding changes

Townships in the southern half of the Loddon Shire such as Inglewood could lose access to a mental health nurse after funding changes.
Townships in the southern half of the Loddon Shire such as Inglewood could lose access to a mental health nurse after funding changes.

The future of two health roles in the Loddon Shire is uncertain following the reallocation of federal government funding at Inglewood and Districts Health Service.

The health service will not renew the contract for its mental health nurse from June 30 this year and will alter the hours of its social worker.

Acting chief executive Kathy Huett said the decision was due to a change in federal government funding provided by Murray Primary Health Network.

Ms Huett said the funding was being “rejigged” from mental health to chronic disease and as such, the health service would lose its ability to provide the services.

Currently the mental health nurse works two days a week across the health service catchment area, seeing about 39 clients in townships in the southern half of the Loddon Shire.

The funding changes also impact alcohol and drugs services provided by the health service’s social worker, who will lose three days of work a fortnight.

Murray PHN chief executive Matt Jones said the current funding was being realigned to allow for a co-ordinated approach to tackle the areas with the highest rates of mortality and morbidity – heart and lung diseases, and diabetes.

Currently the two services are provided under preventable hospitalisations funding, but Mr Jones said the network was looking into whether mental health funding could be provided instead.

“We’re not cutting services, we’re reallocating the funding so there is a focus on preventable hospitalisations,” he said.

“We’re trying to minimise any disruptions but we’re also trying to strengthen the capacity to address the community’s needs.”

Ms Huett said both organisaitions were working together to secure alternative funding options to retain the two services.

“We are working with Murray PHN, the local shire and other bodies to see if we can secure other funding for the services, but at the stage it will cease at the end of June,” she said.

Inglewood and Districts Health Service staff and clients were made aware of the changes, but no formal public announcement has been made about the potential service loss.

It is a move than has upset some community members who say they should have been consulted.

Wedderburn resident and mental health advocate Ric Raftis said discussions had since taken place but the public should have been involved in the process from the start.

“You can’t just withdraw it,” he said. “You’ve got to engage with the community.”

Mr Raftis is also an accredited mental health first aid instructor, the vice president for Ride4Life and heavily involved in other in mental health not-for-profit organisations.

He said the removal of the services could potentially have life-threatening consequences by increasing the risk of suicide in the area.

“They are just critical to any community, not just here, but any community should have access to those types of services,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people who are dependent on those services and some of those people don’t have the resources to get to Bendigo.”