‘Services were double-ups’: Premier defends health promotion budget cuts

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Premier Daniel Andrews has defended budget cuts to community health promotion, saying they will remove double-ups and inefficiencies and would not result in more emergency presentations.

But the sector has hit back, saying health promotion programs — which tackle causes of chronic disease such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol — prevent people from ending up in hospital. Health promotion services say that for every dollar spent on health promotion, $14 are saved.

Community health providers respond after being told preventative programs would be cut.Credit: Wayne Taylor

The Sunday Age revealed that 45 community health services in Victoria were told on Friday to brace themselves for cuts of up to 15 per cent, which were mostly targeted at preventative programs such as vaping and obesity.

Andrews said on Sunday that a lot of services were “basically double-ups”.

“You don’t need multiple different services providing the same thing … it’s hardly the most efficient way to deliver services.”

Asked whether the cutbacks on preventative programs could result in more emergency presentations, Andrews said: “No, I don’t think so at all.”

But Access Health and Community CEO Anna Robinson said health promotion programs reduced the burden of chronic disease. “If we get people eating healthily, participating in physical activity and not smoking, it will stop people ending up in hospital,” she said.

She said she was unaware of any duplication of services and that community health promotion programs were run incredibly efficiently.

“If anything, there has been a huge demand for these services that has been unmet in the community,” she said.

During the pandemic, it was the health promotion program staff that the government called on to engage with communities and keep them safe, Robinson said.

“They were the ones going and knocking on public housing doors and giving people vaccinations in their communities. So in cutting the health promotion spend, now what we’re risking is that capability and capacity won’t be in our system when we next need them most.”

Premier Daniel Andrews: A lot of services are “basically double-ups”.Credit: Gus McCubbing

Andrews told a press conference on Sunday the health promotion cuts were made two budgets ago and the health sector would broadly receive more funding in the May 23 budget.

His office later clarified the prevention program cuts would come into effect at the end of this financial year after being slated for removal in the 2021-22 budget.

Asked if she thought the government was telling lies, Robinson said: “All I know is that we were contacted on Friday for the first time to notify us of the cuts. We’re unclear why we weren’t notified in advance if that decision was made in advance.”

The Australian Health Promotion Association said that for every dollar that was spent on health promotion, $14 were saved.

“So while it might be a $3 million cut, it’s a $50 million cost and we’re going to see that cost ongoing for years to come,” state president David Towl said.

“This is where the government should be spending more money, not taking their money away.”

DPV Health, which operates 20 community health clinics across northern Victoria, said it would no longer be able to run many of its programs if the cuts go ahead.

“We work with highly disadvantaged communities, who are very vulnerable,” said the manager of client experience and community engagement, Rick Jackson.

He said DPV worked with the South Asian community in Whittlesea, for example, educating people on family violence and how to get support.

“Cuts to our programs will minimise the reach we get out to our communities which is really disappointing.”

Meanwhile, Andrews refused to be drawn on claims that the Geelong Fast Rail and landmark Airport Rail projects would be delayed in next month’s state budget.

Two government sources told The Age the works were most likely to be pushed back to ease budget constraints and an overheated construction market.

“These matters of Commonwealth co-funded projects may well be a feature of the Commonwealth budget,” Andrews said.

“Our budget will be delivering on all the election commitments that we made. Beyond that, our budget will have to have some very difficult measures within it because for the best of reasons at the worst of times, we went and borrowed billions and billions of dollars to get us through a one 100-year event. And that is real, interest rates have gone up.“

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