MENTAL health patients in Hamilton, Portland and Camperdown needing urgent treatment, or are at risk of becoming violent, will be left to paramedics or police under a proposal to slash after-hours crisis care.
The state opposition and the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) claimed this week that South West Healthcare (SWH) was considering ending its overnight on-call mental health service in the three regional centres to save $275,000 a year.
While no decision or date has been made, SWH yesterday confirmed it was in the process of considering closing the overnight service, which is used infrequently. Opposition MP Wade Noonan and HACSU state organiser Angela Landmann warned the closure of the after-hours service would mean police and paramedics having to take patients to Warrnambool.
“There will be no added resources put into the Warrnambool hospital — there’s only one clinician overnight who deals with triage,” Ms Landmann said.
“Our members are really concerned at the downgrading of the service. They think this is a life-and-death situation.”
Ms Landmann said SWH was also considering shedding two full-time positions from the extended care unit in Warrnambool.
Mr Noonan, who is also the opposition parliamentary secretary for health, blamed a shrinking state mental health budget.
“There hasn’t been an assessment done of the downstream impacts (on other services) that might come from the decision,” Mr Noonan said.
SWH director of mental health services Caroline Byrne hit back yesterday, labelling Mr Noonan’s foray into the region’s healthcare as “opportunistic” amid state and federal squabbling over health funding.
“They’ve really jumped the gun. I think we’re just a pawn in the game,” Ms Byrne said. “We’re once again just caught in the crossfire between the state and federal governments.”
She conceded the option was on the table because of financial pressures but stopped short of setting a timeline.
“We’ve changed nothing and we have no date to change anything. We’re the only ones with this level of cover in regional Victoria and it is used infrequently.”
The union will meet with members next week to further discuss the proposal.