Traumatised emergency service workers first to benefit from reforms to workplace mental health systems
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Traumatised emergency service workers first to benefit from reforms to workplace mental health systems

Thousands of Victorian police, firefighters and paramedics will be the first to benefit from sweeping reforms to workplace mental health claims to be promised on Wednesday by the state government.

Frontline emergency services workers will get treatment the moment they ask for it, Premier Daniel Andrews will pledge, sweeping away the unpopular and bureaucratic claims system that can lead to months of delays for those seeking help.

High-casualty incidents such as the Bourke and Flinders streets tragedies have highlighted the dangers to the mental health of frontline workers.

Bourke Street, which took the lives of six innocent people, led to a “wave” of first responders seeking help, according to one of their unions.

On Wednesday, Labor will announce a $12 million scheme that includes funding for a one-year pilot of a new system, which will then be rolled out to cover all mental health injuries “sustained by our paramedics, police, Protective Services Officers , firefighters and SES workers in the course of duty”.

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Premier Daniel Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy have promised traumatised frontline workers will get support immediately.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy have promised traumatised frontline workers will get support immediately.Credit:AAP

There will be no cap on the expenses for medical appointments, medication or hospital admissions under the plan promised by Labor.

The government’s pledge comes on the heels of the Coalition promising grants of up to $10,000 to Victoria’s first responders struck down by post-traumatic stress disorder.

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The money would cover medical expenses while the emergency worker went through the WorkCover claims process and Liberal leader Matthew Guy said on Tuesday that he would set a 13-week target for claims to be resolved, if his party wins November’s state election.

The Coalition has promised to establish a $6 million first responders support fund that would be managed by WorkCover.

Labor will also promise to create a new Centre of Excellence for Emergency Worker Mental Health, established in partnership with Beyond Blue, aimed at developing skills to treat emergency workers and undertaking “ground-breaking” research.

Mr Andrews is also pledging $6 million to create a “Specialist Network of Clinicians” and another $6 million for an Early Intervention and Prevention Fund to help Victoria Police improve mental health support for its staff.

“Our first responders can witness and experience the most unimaginable trauma,” the Premier said.

"Sometimes these kinds of injuries can go untreated for years, even decades.

"It means, when our emergency workers do put their hand up for help, we need to be there.”

Leading Senior Constable Pete Henry told The Age on Tuesday that the current system was deterring his police colleagues from coming forward and seeking the treatment they needed.

Peter Henry is a police officer who has had PTSD but had a tough time accessing the workers support scheme.

Peter Henry is a police officer who has had PTSD but had a tough time accessing the workers support scheme. Credit:Jason South

The veteran officer said he could not face going through the WorkCover process last year after the accumulated trauma of 28 years on the front line caught up with him.

Instead of lodging a WorkCover claim when things got too much and he was left unable to work, Senior Constable Henry took ordinary sick leave and paid his own medical bills.

“I ended up about $1000 out of pocket and used my own sick leave and I reckon there’s definitely a lot of people out there who do the same, rather than go through WorkCover,” he said.

Danny Hill, secretary of Ambulance Employees Victoria, also said on Tuesday that reform to the system was much needed, highlighted by the large number of cries for help after major incidents.

“You have incidents like Bourke Street where you would have a wave of people seeking assistance from psychologists, psychiatrists.

“But it can often be the cumulative effects of a career of that kind of work.

“Often what we see is people not developing any symptoms until a lot of time has gone by and then they sort of fall by the wayside... and it takes a long time to identify that those people have post-traumatic stress disorder.”