Original image by Jacob Komesaroff

Healthy Victorians

You are reading Chapter 8 of 'Delivering Fairness', 2019 VCOSS Budget Submission

Being healthy in body and mind is a key part of leading a good life. Victorians must be supported to stay strong and avoid sickness, recover quickly if they are injured or ill, and have a full life if they do have longer-lasting conditions.

Poor health is unfortunately more common among people who experience poverty, discrimination and a lack of education or employment. This leads to higher rates of preventable hospitalisation, chronic disease and premature death.

People experiencing hardship or marginalisation are also less able to get help when ill or injured, and find it harder to recover from health challenges. Health inequity is more pronounced in regional Victoria.

Victoria can build a comprehensive, easy-to-access and low-cost health system, focusing on preventive and primary health services. We can dismantle barriers and recognise community health clinics and social services as critical entry points to the broader health system.


 Deliver a successful Royal Commission into Mental Health

Ensure the Royal Commission has the resources for a broad-ranging inquiry, which prominently features people with lived experience

The Royal Commission into Mental Health presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to promote a mentally healthy Victoria, and change the way that people experiencing mental ill-health are supported. Victoria’s mental health system was once the envy of Australia. The Royal Commission provides an opportunity to build on this legacy, and again place Victoria at the forefront of mental health in the nation.

VCOSS members desire the Royal Commission to have a broad scope to determine the most effective means of improving the mental health of Victorians, observing that many useful changes may lie beyond the mental health system. They desire a future-focused inquiry identifying best practice.[1]

The Royal Commission must prominently feature the voices of people with lived experience, their families and carers. Many people with lived experience of mental illness want to tell their stories, including the trauma they experienced in the mental health system. The Commissioners can adopt a human rights and trauma-informed approach to gathering evidence and framing the inquiry.

The Royal Commission can examine diversity and difference in mental wellbeing, using an intersectional approach, incorporating examination of identity, life-course, geography and socio-economic status.

The Victorian Government can provide appropriate resources for a successful Royal Commission into Mental Health to produce an ambitious but achievable plan for a new approach to mental wellbeing.


 Ensure that people experiencing mental illness continue to get the support they need

Provide emergency funding to the community mental health sector

The Victorian Government has taken a bold step in calling a Royal Commission into Mental Health, which can examine the pressures at every point of the mental health system. We hope that the Royal Commission will give us a roadmap for the future. But the Victorian Government must also act now, to address immediate issues.

Community mental health services, and the Victorians who most rely on them, have been significantly affected by the NDIS transition. Victoria redirected community mental health services funding to the NDIS, unlike other states, which increased funding. As a result, experienced community mental health worker

s are leaving the sector and being replaced with less qualified staff, or not at all.

An estimated $200 million each year is needed to provide adequate community mental health support to 35,900 Victorians.[2] The Government’s commitment to $70 million over two years for community mental health will help, but will not reach everyone.

An extra funding boost will attract experienced mental health workers back into the workforce to support people who no longer receive community mental health services. This will help ens

ure that people experiencing mental ill-health continue to get the support they need during the Royal Commission’s investigations.

Mick is losing access to community mental health services

Mick Cairns is a 68-year-old client of Merri Health’s mental health support services. He has been going to Merri Health for many years and has been attending the arts and crafts sessions in the Day to Day Living program. The program provides an array of social activities to support mental wellbeing, but is not funded beyond 30 June 2019.

“Three or four days a week, I am in my element painting in the art studio. Julie and David run the programs and their support has been invaluable to me. Julie’s wise suggestions have made me a better artist. David’s friendly support is enriching socially. These programs are what get me up in the morning.”

“It would leave a huge gap in my life if the funding for these programs ceased. Please do your best to make sure that I can look forward to the future confidently.”


 Expand alcohol and other drug treatment services

Build more AOD rehabilitation places, including in regional Victoria

The Victorian Government can help people overcome addiction and problem drug and alcohol use by boosting the number of residential rehabilitation beds available. These offer live-in treatment for people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Seeking treatment can be difficult, and a responsive system with sufficient capacity means people can find a bed soon after deciding to get help.

But these state-funded programs have long wait-lists that impede timely treatment – Victoria has the second-lowest ratio of residential rehabilitation beds per capita in Australia.[3] Private residential rehabilitation is prohibitively expensive for many people, and poorly regulated, with some providers of questionable quality.

Rural and regional Victoria has particularly urgent needs. Regional Victoria has higher rates of drug overdose deaths than Melbourne, and they are rising faster.[4] People living in regional and rural areas face difficulties accessing services, and must travel to Melbourne to get treatment.[5]

Rural and regional Victorians need rehabilitation services close to home. Given the lengthy nature of rehabilitation programs, a locally-based program enables people to stay connected with their family and community.


Source: Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association

Source: Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association


 Give every Victorian a healthy smile

Use school dental vans as a prevention platform, and boost funds for emergency and ongoing dental care

The Victorian Government has introduced a major reform in bringing back school dental vans for every public school, producing a marked improvement to dental services for children.

Prevention, early intervention and improved access to dental services are crucial to boosting oral health. The Victorian Government can embed evidence-based education into the school dental program, using their presence at schools to provide prevention and early intervention service, in addition to treatment.

The Victorian Government can expand on the work of its dental vans by building a system that provides equitable access to timely and affordable dental care for every Victorians. More than half of Victorian children aged three to five have signs of tooth decay.[6] The average waiting time for a Victorian adult to receive general dental care in the public system is more than 20 months, and the longest waiting time is 42 months.[7],[8]

The Victorian Government can increased funding for public dental services across Victoria’s community health sector, going a long way to providing easily accessible dental care, improving prevention, early detection and treatment.


 Further strategies

Take pressure off hospitals by implementing the recommendations of the Victorian Community Health Taskforce

Victorian community health services are incredibly efficient,[9] and target their services to people experiencing disadvantage with high health needs. The Community Health Taskforce is investigating strategies to build an even stronger, more effective system. The Victorian Government can commit to implementing its recommendations to help keep struggling Victorians well and out of hospital.

Tackle eating disorders

Eating disorders are serious psychiatric disorders affecting 234,000 Victorians.[10] Help for people with eating disorders crosses both health and mental health systems, but there is limited co-ordination, policy framework or dedicated funding. The Victorian Government can develop and fund a coordinated response to eating disorders.

Invest in assertive outreach suicide prevention programs

VCOSS applauds the Victorian Government’s recent announcement of an expansion of the Hospital Outreach Post-suicidal Engagement Program (HOPE) to six more hospitals.[11] The Victorian Government can continue investing in and expanding assertive suicide prevention responses.


Artwork by artist Jacob Komesaroff. Follow on Instagram @jkomments