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Op Ed - A critical service for all new parents

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“They don’t come with an instruction manual”

It’s a somewhat ominous old saying for many new parents that is ringing in their ears as they take their newborn baby home from hospital for the first time. Those first few weeks can be a daunting experience, often leaving many parents feeling out of their depth.

To these new parents’ Council-run Maternal and Child Health services are an invaluable source of expertise, experience, and knowledge.

The general guidance provided can be important, but it’s early intervention in health outcomes that makes it such as critical service on multiple fronts. Yes, the service provides assurance to new parents, but its value goes far beyond that. In helping to identify and prevent potential health issues early, the MCH system proves its worth to the taxpayer.

We often hear health initiatives talk about prevention being more important than a cure and, in many ways, MCH is the ultimate prevention and early identification service. Through their experience and expertise, MCH nurses are able to pick up things that no parent could be expected to know, let alone be looking out for.

And yet, such a critical service could be under threat.

As you may have seen in the news this week, staffing shortages are causing a small number of councils in Victoria to readjust the MCH services they can provide.

Despite extensive searches, some are simply finding it too difficult to find qualified staff, on top of the existing COVID-19 isolation issues, and now other illness like the flu, wreaking havoc on almost every industry in the state.

And while staffing shortages are in the news this week, there is more turbulence at play in the MCH space.

Maternal and Child Health has traditionally been paid for through a 50/50 split of funding: 50 percent by council and 50 percent by state government. Unfortunately, the state government has dragged its feet on this in recent times.

Adequate, flexible and sustained funding is critical, and the service needs the State Government to return to its 50/50 funding model.

Currently the State Government is only contributing $123.85 per hour of MCH service, while it costs local government $142.79 per hour of service, therefore equating to the need for the State Government to increase their contribution by 15 percent.

The Local Government sector was eagerly awaiting the 2022/23 budget, hopeful that its self-proclaimed focus on healthcare would return to a more equitably funding model for MCH.

Unfortunately, there was no announcement forthcoming for additional funding apart from the existing ongoing amounts, nor a plan to tackle the crippling staff shortages.

Financial pressures abound for all local governments, as the recovery from the pandemic collides with rate capping and communities everywhere asking their councils to do more, not less.

As a crucial service to so many within our communities, Maternal and Child Health cannot be risked. That is why councils like Wyndham and Melton have taken these difficult decisions to amend their MCH services – to ensure their long-term viability, while making sure those most vulnerable within the community still have access.

The MAV, alongside our member councils, is currently working with the Department of Health and Safer Care Victoria on short- and medium-term strategies to help councils work towards full capacity.

Importantly, for those who are impacted by the changes now families can access MCH services anywhere in Victoria, and their local council can help guide to other services through municipalities nearby., there is also the 24-hour telephone support available on 13 22 29.