What can be said about the Victorian Budget and what does it do for you? There are some great outcomes from the Victorian Budget and many that will directly benefit our members.
It is extremely pleasing to see the Victorian Government has taken seriously the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. There has been a massive injection of investment and long-term funding put into the mental health system with $3.8 billion pledged to begin to revamp the sector. There has been major investment in mental health services in regional and rural Victoria as well as recognition that there are not nearly enough options for people to seek mental health support and assistance in regional and rural Victoria. There will be funding put aside to separate child, youth and adult mental health care, which is hoped to deliver the health care that people need when they need it. The budget establishes specific funding to improve access to mental health beds and better acute care for Victorians living with mental illness.
It is significant that the budget appears to have picked up on all of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. This includes establishing an ongoing levy to ensure the mental health system, which was an issue of much discussion ahead of the budget being delivered to Parliament. The levy will only apply to the state’s largest employers who have more than $10 million in wages nationally and revenue raised through the levy will be dedicated to the state’s mental health system.
The massive investment in mental health does not just consider the services and their availability, the budget also ensures that there is an appropriate workforce to cope with the increased demand. The budget will see an additional 3,000 jobs created from the investment in mental health which will include an increase in psychologists. There has been a clear acknowledgement of the need to ensure that the mental health system has the right mix of staff, while looking to increase the workforce to accommodate the increasing demand to access mental health support. At this stage we haven’t been able to identify what the increase will be in effective full-time employment for psychologists. However, in our discussions with department officials it seems that there will be a greater emphasis on psychologists and psychiatrists and not just social workers or mental health nurses.
The budget acknowledges that private pathology providers in our public health care system have not delivered, with their significant divestment in people and equipment needed to deliver world-class health care. The funding delivered in this budget will be used to begin to consolidate existing public pathology laboratories into networks supported by new laboratory information systems. The Victorian Government is putting in nearly $20 million in the first year of reforms with significant additional funding over the next four years; this doesn’t include investment in new technology or equipment.
It’s clear the government has seen, albeit through the lens of the pandemic, the vital importance of the work of our pathology laboratories. Whether this consolidation will result in a much-needed investment in more medical scientists and technicians being employed, is still to be seen but we are not going to hold our breath. We will have to work to ensure that more investment in staff continues; and that the consolidation is a truly state-wide approach to restoring public pathology laboratories. There are still some big issues that need to be resolved in consolidating public pathology laboratories and we will not shy away from raising them.
Members will have also seen the announcement of a public IVF services with $70 million allocated to developing a public IVF service. The proposal from the government would see a full IVF service being established in the public health sector. This significant investment will also require a significant investment in the people needed to deliver the new IVF service. It will mean more scientists and more genetic counsellors. However, it is unclear what funding is allocated to the workforce and what levels of employment will be expected to deliver a public IVF service.
Unfortunately, the budget doesn’t acknowledge the significant investment needed to address the shortages in pharmacists. The Union was hoping to see in the budget funding allocated to boost the numbers of pharmacists working in the public health sector given ongoing negotiations in our public health sector agreement bargaining. It is also disappointing that the government has not acknowledged the significant workforce shortages in our disciplines more broadly.
While there is still a lot of work to do to ensure there are more people working across our disciplines, this year’s state budget is a major win for the Union. It is a testament to the years of lobbying we have done to highlight the significant under-investment in staff and the failure to reduce staff shortages across our disciplines. Our team will continue to comb through the budget for additional details, but it appears that the 2021-22 Victorian State Budget is a significant boost for mental health and the healthcare system in general and for many of our members more specifically.