UNIONS, politicians and South West Healthcare (SWH) remain deadlocked over the justification for closing after-hours mental health services across the region.
From April, SWH will begin phasing out on-call mental health care in Camperdown, Portland and Hamilton, citing low demand and high costs for the axing.
A briefing given to staff last week and provided to The Standard explained the service was receiving “extremely low utilisation” and an average of three calls a week.
“From the last 21 months data, on average there are three calls per week in Warrnambool that relate to Camperdown, Hamilton and Portland. Of these, less than 30 per cent require a local on-call clinician to respond.”
On-call clinicians will now be replaced with a video link-up to staff in Warrnambool.
Other health services, including Bendigo, have revealed similar changes as hospitals tighten their belts amid federal funding cuts.
But the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) has criticised the move it says will leave mentally ill patients in the hands of paramedics and police.
HACSU organiser Angela Landmann went as far to say the cuts would put lives at risk.
“We’re still hoping to influence that decision,” she said.
She confirmed the union was seeking grounds to refer the matter to the fair work commission.
HACSU’s public campaign has been backed by state opposition health secretary Wade Noonan.
“A police officer in Hamilton said that the on-call crisis assessment service is called upon at least three times a week,” Mr Noonan said.
Last week, State Minister for Mental Health Mary Wooldridge defended the cuts during question time. “The number of times we need someone on call at Hamilton, Portland and Camperdown to respond out of hours is rare,” she said.