Business case shows Illawarra Women’s Health Centre needs $1.2 million

Illawarra Mercury – Natalie Croxon

A new business case indicates the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre is providing $1.2 million worth of essential services on less than $600,000 of funding, as the organisation looks to establish a second site in the region’s northern suburbs.

The Women’s Health NSW report delivered to Health Minister Brad Hazzard this week looked at the network of 20 women’s health centres across the state and their financial sustainability.

The report showed that the estimated sustainable funding the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre needed in 2022-23 to meet demand topped $1.2 million – but its grant for this same period was just $594,000.

With the report looking at services the centre was already contracted to deliver, general manager Sally Stevenson said this showed a “massive return on investment”.

This report came ahead of an extra $200,000 announced on Tuesday by Shellharbour MP Anna Watson, which brought the total state government commitment to the centre this financial year to about $800,000.

Ms Stevenson said this funding filled a gap left by the end of short-term COVID funding and meant the centre could maintain its current level of service delivery for women experiencing violence, including a case worker and a counsellor.

“We’re thrilled to receive $200,000, because we can retain staff and deliver services,” Ms Stevenson said.

The centre credited Ms Watson’s “relentless advocacy”, along with Mr Hazzard’s support, for the funding.

“The Illawarra Women’s Health Centre, led by Sally Stevenson, is a critical service provider in the Illawarra and I am so pleased that the amazing work undertaken by Sally and her team can continue,” Ms Watson said.

Ms Stevenson said demand for the centre’s services went up during the pandemic and that level of demand persisted.

“The impact of the pandemic will play out over many years,” she said.

The Warilla-based centre had reached capacity, Ms Stevenson said, and wanted to establish a second site in the northern Illawarra.

“It would deliver the same sorts of services, because we know there’s similar need in that area,” she said.

Ms Stevenson said she wanted to see funding commitments from the two major parties ahead of the next state election and the delivery of this funding in the subsequent budget, with the hope that progress towards a second centre could get underway next year.

The business case presented to Mr Hazzard this week said the women’s health sector as a whole had reached crisis point and was not sustainable under current arrangements.

“The Women’s Health Program grant provided by NSW Health – currently $10.56 million per annum – has not seen a real increase since 1986, despite major economic and social changes, and structural adjustments in the health sector over this period,” the report said.

It said the program delivered by centres like the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre provided evidence-based interventions to address physical and mental health needs, the impacts of domestic, family and sexual violence on health, and social determinants of health.

“The most conservative estimate of benefits… indicates that the Women’s Health Program will deliver $33.9 million in savings to the NSW government in 2022-23,” the report said.

“Applying a sustainable rate of program funding to actual delivery in 2022-23, this equates to a minimum 78 per cent return on investment.”