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Call to keep Head to Health as mental health services head south

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By Colin MacGillivray

NEXUS Primary Health leaders are calling for community support as they seek to reverse a decision to defund Wallan’s Head to Health mental health support service.

Head to Health is a national network of hubs set up by the Federal Government during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to provide mental health counselling, care navigation and other services.

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In April, Nexus chief executive Amanda Mullins was notified the organisation’s contract to deliver Head to Health, which it operates in partnership with Banyule Community Health, would be discontinued after June 30.

From July 1, Wallan residents will instead be referred to a new Whittlesea Mental Health and Wellbeing Local, set up as part of the State Government’s response to the 2021 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

Ms Mullins said she supported the royal commission’s recommendation to provide locally accessible mental health services in regional and rural areas, but did not believe Wallan’s Head to Health program should be discontinued.

Ms Mullins said she had been told the Whittlesea Mental Health and Wellbeing Local was not yet fully operational due to staffing and recruitment issues, and that prospective clients would need to travel to Thomastown in Melbourne’s northern suburbs for face-to-face support or be forced to access telehealth services with city-based counsellors.

She also expressed concern the partners contracted to operate the Whittlesea Mental Health and Wellbeing Local – Uniting VicTas, Drummond Street Services, Neami National, and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service – were not locally based.

“We support and understand the importance of the royal commission recommendations around easy access to location-based services, but why would you move services from a current provider?” she said.

“We’re already set up and have established relationships with the community. Nexus has been around for more than 40 years. We are already seeing these clients.”

Ms Mullins said Nexus hoped to partner with the state and federal governments to find a solution, mental health services could be subcontracted to Nexus until the Whittlesea Mental Health and Wellbeing Local was better established.

She encouraged community members to write letters to their local state and federal members of parliament asking them to reinstate funding for the Head to Health program.

Federal Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell told the Review he was ‘surprised and concerned’ to hear Nexus was losing its Head to Health contract.

Mr Mitchell said while Head to Health services across Australia were funded by the Federal Government through its Primary Health Networks, the Victorian Government was responsible for managing the 15 Head to Health hubs in the state.

“As I understand it, the management of this program is different here in Victoria as compared to any other state – it is Commonwealth-led in every state except Victoria, where the state government is managing it,” he said.

Mr Mitchell said he had spoken directly to federal Health Minister Mark Butler about the issue.

“It’s just not right and not practical for people trying to access services,” he said.

“I will be advocating to my state colleagues to fix this and have local services here in Mitchell Shire.”

Under the Victorian National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement, a bilateral agreement between the state and federal governments, the Federal Government is contributing toward the establishment and operation of Victoria’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Local network.

Under the agreement the Federal Government will fund the ongoing operation of existing Head to Health clinics while Mental Health and Wellbeing Locals are being established.

As Mental Health and Wellbeing Locals become operational across Victoria, they will progressively replace all federally-funded Victorian Head to Health clinics, except in Geelong.

Outside of Victoria, the Federal Government will permanently establish a national network of Head to Health centres.

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  1. Nexus were given funding to open a physical hub for mental health services in 2020 in the years they haven’t opened the physical hub at the Wallan office and this might be one reason for th decision made. My nephew told me they had funding in 2020 to open a ohysical hub for people to be able to walk in to and get help for mental health needs and they haven’t done this.

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