Fears over merger of violent abuse units

The merger of three specialised units for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence will have a negative impact on the region's "most desperate and vulnerable", according to a union official.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) is amalgamating the former Sexual Assault Service, Domestic Violence and Community Counselling Team and Violence Protection units.

Now known as the Violence Abuse and Neglect (VAN) service, its staff will operate out of three hubs at Wollongong, Shellharbour and Nowra.

However, NSW Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes has expressed concern that the centralisation of the services will make them harder to access for some people. Previously the services were available at 19 community centres across the region.

"This merger will remove critical support services to some of society's most desperate and vulnerable people," he said.

"Only a truly heartless government pulls the rug from under the feet of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

"This is a direct result of the budget straitjacket being imposed on the local health system by Barry O'Farrell's government."

A "concerned citizen" wrote to the Mercury about the merger, saying: "These are vital and needed frontline services and are heavily utilised".

He said the centralisation of some services in Wollongong would put further pressure on waiting times, and cause parking issues. He was also worried there would be reduced services available over the busy, festive season.

An ISLHD spokeswoman said a 24-hour crisis service would run during the Christmas/ New Year period.

She said the VAN service was being implemented following 16 months of consultation with staff and unions.

"The VAN service was developed to address the presentations of all violence-related cases within a holistic model of care," she said. "[It] incorporates clinical, strategic and policy functions to enhance the capacity of the ISLHD to address violence and violence-related issues in a co-ordinated and consistent manner."

The hubs will be at Urunga House, Wollongong and Links House, Nowra, while the location for the Shellharbour hub has not been finalised. Outreach services will be provided.

Kiama MP Gareth Ward said the merger had not resulted in job losses.

"The local health district has determined they can provide the best possible service by combining a number of services under one roof," he said.

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