Illawarra Women’s Health Centre general manager Sally Stevenson said the changes could stop women suffering from domestic violence, sexual assault and mental illness seeking the help they needed.
“Our target group is vulnerable and marginalised women because we offer services at little to no cost,” she said.
“The concern is that they will be further marginalised because their access to healthcare will be restricted by the introduction of the Medicare co-payment, by the increased cost of PBS medicines and by the hits to the public hospital system.”
Ms Stevenson met the managers of the Waminda and Shoalhaven women’s health centres this week to talk about the threats the budget posed to their clients, and the centres themselves.
The three centres cater for women from Helensburgh to Ulladulla suffering from a range of physical and mental health issues.
“Women come here who are suffering from trauma, violence, sexual assault and mental health issues, among other reasons,” she said.
“In the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, there’s a very high rate of violence against women and that is rising, as is the brutality of that violence.
“Women in the region also have some of the highest rates of anxiety, depression and stress in the state.
“There’s also high rates of cardiovascular disease and lifestyle-associated diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
“We should not be creating any more barriers to accessing healthcare for these women.”
Ms Stevenson said while a $7 co-payment might not sound much, that figure was compounded for women with children or those needing follow-up pathology or medication.
“Women may decide not to have a pap smear because they’ll have to pay $7 to see the GP, $7 for pathology services and then maybe $7 for a follow-up scan,” she said.
“We offer a range of preventative or support-style services and are concerned that if these early intervention measures are not accessible, then chronic disease will develop and people will end up in hospital.”
Faye Worner, the chief executive of Waminda in Nowra, said the federal budget measures – including the cuts to state government health coffers – would have a direct impact on the centres.