Government budget cuts have forced one of South Australia’s primary providers of sexual health services, SHINE SA, to close two clinics and axe its HIV counselling service.
Over the years, SHINE expanded to provide sexual health clinics among other services, with clinics operating in Woodville, Adelaide CBD, Davoren Park and Noarlunga.
The service also runs clinics in correctional facilities as well as SAMESH, “a HIV health promotion program targeting people at risk of, and/or living with HIV” which is run in partnership with Thorne Harbour Health.
The cuts came as part of the budget announced by the new Liberal government, which took power from former premier Jay Weatherill’s Labor government at the state election in March.
Miliotis wrote that the budget included an average 2 per cent funding reduction for non-government agencies across South Australia, but that the sexual health sector copped cuts ranging between 5 per cent and 9.5 per cent – with one service, Cheltenham Place, completely defunded.
A petition has been launched to restore funding to Cheltenham Place, which provided support to people living with HIV and their carers “experiencing reduced independence and/or increased need”, providing rehabilitation to promote recovery and re-integration.
Cheltenham Place’s clients included gay man and men who have sex with men, but also provided services across the community including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people experiencing homelessness and mental illness, and more.
The two SHINE clinics facing closure – Davoren Park and Noarlunga – were located in areas of particular need, with South Australian Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton saying that “these heartless budget cuts will impact disadvantaged communities and increase pressure on our hospitals.”
Miliotis wrote that the $547,000 cut to SHINE forced the closure of the two clinics, and said that the organisation had also received directive from the state government to prioritise its education and workforce development programs.
She also noted that SHINE has faced consistent cuts since 2012, forcing the implementation of Medicare Benefits Scheme billing, an income model for general practices not typically used by specialised sexual health services.
Health Minister Stephen Wade expressed surprise that SHINE would opt to shutter the clinics, saying that “similar services interstate are operating more efficiently and that the government thinks “there are more opportunities for SHINE to access Medicare revenue.”
“They need to think again about how they can more cost-effectively deliver services. It’s a 9 per cent reduction in the grant but they’re talking about a 50 per cent reduction in their clinics,” he said.
The cuts have also forced the closure of SAMESH‘s HIV counselling service, which provided free online and in-person counselling to individuals or couples living with or at risk of HIV, as well as other STIs.
Picton noted that the effect of the cuts coincided with the declaration that the state’s syphilis outbreak, which began in North Queensland, had reached Adelaide, and that the closures “could not be happening at a worse time”.
Picton launched a petition calling on Wade and Premier Steven Marshall to reverse the cuts and allow SHINE to continue operating its full range of services.