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  • Aust-first women mental health beds in Vic

    Author: AAP

Dozens of mental health beds specifically for women will be made available in Victoria, in an Australian first.

Acting Premier James Merlino announced the $100 million initiative on Tuesday, saying it would support more than 750 Victorian women with mental health conditions each year.

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Thirty of the mental health beds, the first of their kind in the country, will be set up at Melbourne's Albert Road Clinic, and five at Shepparton Private Hospital.

The private beds for public patients were a recommendation of the royal commission into the Victorian mental health system and are in addition to the government's $492 million budget commitment to deliver 144 new mental health beds.

Mr Merlino said the beds would ease pressure on the public system and provide a safe and inclusive environment for women suffering perinatal concerns, eating disorders and other mental health conditions.

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"This is the result of decades of advocacy from people with a lived experience," he told reporters.

Julie Dempster, a self-described reluctant consumer of the mental health system for four decades, said she was a victim and witness of sexual and physical assault as well as harassment on wards.

The dedicated beds, she said, were a starting point to turn the tide of the state's "long history" of compromised safety for female psychiatric patients.

"For too many years, we've been locked-in with the males," she said.

"No offence to males - but everything is decided around males-first and for many years we've lacked a female-focus."

Long-time advocate Sandy Jeffs said the issue dated back to the 1960s when major hospitals integrated mental health wards and female patients became "collateral damage".

The author and poet recalled once being stalked by a male patient in a locked ward and how unsafe she felt.

"Wards are supposed to be healing places, places of safety, places of asylum," she said.

The bed provision will start being rolled out from April to mid-2022, and be managed by an extra 60 full-time health workers.

Work is continuing to scope locations for at least another 100 general mental health beds for men and women, Mr Merlino said.

The state government this year enacted the royal commission's recommendation for a mental health care levy to fix the state's "broken" system, with big businesses to pay an additional 0.5 per cent surcharge from January 1.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has vowed to repeal the levy if the Liberal/Nationals win government at the next Victorian election in November 2022.

Mr Merlino said the levy and funding of the system would become a key election issue.

Opposition mental health spokeswoman Emma Kealy said more workers were needed to ensure the pledged beds make a "dent in the shadow pandemic".

"Labor's been in government for 17 of the past 21 years, but their neglect means too many vulnerable Victorians are missing out on support," she said in a statement.

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