Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (13:27): My question is for the Minister for Health. According to estimates, of the 1000 or so homeless people currently in temporary housing in hotels during this crisis, at least one-third have significant issues relating to drug dependence.
These also include the long-term consequences of some of their ongoing ill health and poor health, as well as chronic hepatitis infections. As I am sure the minister is aware, there is an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak in the state affecting this cohort.
In addition, I think the high rates of drug use may pose risks for the community, particularly in the vicinity of the hotels. There is currently a proposal in your department to have a health outreach team headed by the Royal Melbourne Hospital that can coordinate various health services for vulnerable people, including COVID testing, instead of having them reach out to a range of agencies, which we know from experience they rarely do. The program had a very successful trial at the Ibis in June. My fear is that those at risk are not identified and dealt with compassionately. Will the minister fully fund this program now so we can keep Victorians safe? (Time expired)
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services, Minister for the Coordination of Health and Human Services: COVID-19) (13:28): I thank the member for her question. The member has raised issues around support for people who are experiencing homelessness who are also experiencing drug addiction issues.
Ms Patten: And who are housed in hotels.
Ms MIKAKOS: Okay. She is seeking that I provide some advice around issues that intersect with a number of portfolios, including that related to the Minister for Housing and also the Minister for Mental Health.
What I can say to her is that we have got some very vulnerable people in our community who we are providing support to as part of our COVID-19 response, including providing them with emergency accommodation.
We have had a multifaceted health response dealing with these complex issues, not just providing support in terms of accommodation and wraparound health services, including drug and alcohol support, but providing them with free masks, for example, and other supports. The government, as part of its pandemic response, has provided specific funding to providers to provide these types of supports.
For example, Minister Foley has announced $59.4 million to boost our mental health system, including nearly $7 million to help community-based mental health services to provide people with support via phone and video to prevent relapse and emergency department presentations.
There has been a great deal of work undertaken to refine mental health screening processes and escalation pathways, including alcohol and other drug dual diagnosis in-reach support, which is available.
Also, there has been work between Cohealth and Harm Reduction Victoria, collaborating together to provide outreach services to support AOD clients, including undertaking welfare checks for vulnerable clients. I am mindful of the time.
I am very happy to take on board the member’s very specific request and follow that up, together with Minister Foley, given the intersection of the three portfolios around these issues, and perhaps come back to her with a written response. But I am very happy to have a discussion with her offline as well prior to that.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (13:31): Thank you, Minister. This is something where we have seen a trial happening of this outreach team. I think we are not meeting that demand for those wraparound services to these cohorts, and I do think that this could be disastrous.
By way of supplementary on that, I am wondering if you could advise the house of how many Victorians who are experiencing homelessness and are in the hotel accommodation have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services, Minister for the Coordination of Health and Human Services: COVID-19) (13:32): I thank the member for her further question. That is not a number that I have at hand, but I am happy to provide her with that number if we can determine that.
Sometimes, I guess, the breakdown of the numbers can be challenging, but we will see how best we are able to acquit that specific request.