Women’s health not a priority for state government

21 June 2012

A proposed 10 per cent cut to women’s health promotion funding over the next two years will have a devastating effect on Victoria’s primary prevention program.

The state government plans to cut $10 million from its program to promote health and wellbeing and prevent the onset of more serious illnesses. Health resources in Victoria are significantly weighted towards responding to ill health after it occurs, leaving less than 0.003 per cent of the health budget to support health promotion. Although women’s health services receive less than 20 per cent of that amount, this is the program that is being targeted for cuts to the health budget.

The Victorian women’s health program is unique in Australia, with nine regional and three state-wide women’s health services funded through the program. Funding for these services has not increased in 15 years, despite population increases of up to 30 per cent. Instead, they are facing significant funding cuts.

‘The women’s health program is an efficient, cost-effective and productive program, producing results far beyond what the budgets of those programs would indicate’, explained Dr Robyn Gregory, Convenor of the Women’s Health Association of Victoria, and CEO of Women’s Health West. ‘The best available evidence indicates that to achieve the enormous social, cultural and attitudinal change required to effectively prevent ill health, primary prevention work must be long-term and sustained.’

For instance, VicHealth reported that violence is more damaging to the health of Victorian women aged 15–44 years than any other well-known risk factors, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking. Investing in prevention approaches to health policy has significant economic benefits to government – including reduced hospital admissions, lower pharmaceutical expenditure and a significant decrease in the need for investment in acute health services. The national cost of family violence is over $13 billion.

In the past 23 years the women’s health services have led thousands of projects designed to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of women – and therefore of families and communities. These include coordinating efforts to prevent violence against women; working to bring attitudes in line with the law in areas such as partner rape; seeking women’s experiences after disasters to inform emergency services planning; advocating for women’s right to contraception and access to safe abortion; piloting initiatives to strengthen newly-arrived women’s understanding of financial systems in Australia; and developing the leadership skills of young women in community activities.

‘Proposed funding cuts disproportionately target the women’s health services and integrated health promotion, and will result in staff loss as well as significantly reducing our ability to improve women’s health and wellbeing in the long term, added Dr Gregory.

With community health services also facing significant cuts to their health promotion budgets, their ability to work in partnership with other services to tackle the factors that determine community health will be seriously curtailed. ‘Some of those services have already told us that they will be pulling out of work to prevent violence against women’, said Dr Gregory. ‘This will further undermine our ability to make significant gains for women and children – and ultimately for our communities’.