IN its first budget since winning office six months ago the Queensland Labor government has announced a restoration of services to the Biala Sexual Health Clinic and a $5.3 million sexual health strategy in conjunction with HIV organisations.
One of the state’s biggest expenditure on health, the announcement included the re-establishment of services to Biala whose funding and staffing had been drastically cut back since 2013 by the local Metro North Health and Hospital Service (MNHHS).
The government will provide an additional $13.2 million over four years for the clinic with a continued allocation of $3.4 million per annum.
“We are investing record amounts in health and ambulance services to address key areas of demand and reverse cuts to frontline services made by the former LNP Government,” Health Minister Cameron Dick said.
Speaking to the Star Observer, a spokesperson for the Health Minister said Biala served a vital function for the LGBTI and wider community in testing and treating STIs and HIV.
“It was the largest sexual health clinic in the state, providing more than 13,000 service interactions each year before its near-destruction by the former LNP Government,” the spokesperson said.
“This funding… ensures Biala will once again play an important role in providing sexual health services to vulnerable, at risk and marginalised members of the community.”
Since the news of its majority closure, Biala has become a political football of sorts as the then-Rudd Labor federal government intervened to keep the clinic open for one year into 2014/15.
However, after the election of the Abbott Coalition government, funding set aside for Biala was rejected along with several other cuts to rein in spending.
The $5.3 million allocated to the sexual health strategy will be rolled out “in partnership with community organisations” and comprise of funding provided to the state’s primary HIV organisations; the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) and HIV Foundation Queensland.
“This strategy will be an important measure to enhance the health and wellbeing of LGBTI Queenslanders,” the Health Minister’s spokesperson said.
“We are committed to consulting with the community, clinicians and stakeholders, including [QuAC] and HIV Foundation, in the development of the strategy.”
During the January state election campaign Labor committed to restoring the funding stripped from QuAC by the former government, and has since made given them access to apply for funding.
“We are working closely with groups with an interest in HIV matters including (QuAC),” the spokesperson said.
“This is in contrast to the Newman Government who not only defunded (QuAC) but actively blocked them from applying for other funding.”
Respected Brisbane-based HIV specialist Dr Wendell Rosevear has been one of the clinic’s most vocal supporters, campaigning for the restoration of Biala’s services since the MNHHS decision.
“I welcome the re-establishment of Sexual Health Services at Biala. It is vital that Sexual Health services be seen as necessary for the whole city,” he told the Star Observer.
“Part of its success was its accessibility, especially for sex workers, tourists and students who don’t have Medicare access.
“These people are sexually active and it is a personal and public health issue to provide access to testing and treatment for them and everyone.”
However, Rosevear approached the funding decision with caution, expressing concern that if Biala’s funding is not “quarantined” its future may possibly again be in question.
“In the past Brisbane North, who administer Biala, cut funding for budgetary reasons. The risk is if a different government comes along, they could cut funding again,” he said.
“I believe we should quarantine the funding of Biala from the Brisbane North/South Divide or the Big Hospital Budget needs that could squeeze Sexual Health out again.”[showads ad=FOOT]