Category: News

WRAD Health maintains bulk billing despite the challenges


In a world where fully bulk-billing clinics are becoming a thing of the past, WRAD Health is determined to continue providing free medical care.

As one of only two fully bulk-billing medical clinics in Warrnambool, WRAD Health faces challenges in ensuring the service’s viability but says it’s important that is stays for the community.

The clinic is used by about 2700 people each year for general medical support and now has eight doctors on staff.

While other local medical clinics offer mixed billing, only WRAD Health and Gunditjmara are fully bulk billing. Australia has reportedly lost more than 400 dedicated bulk-billing GP clinics in the past year.

A Guardian Australia analysis of bulk billing only clinics on the Healthdirect service finder GP database between 2023 and 2024 found 455 GP clinics switched from fully bulk billing to a mix of bulk billing and out-of-pocket fees in the year to February.

In addition, 114 bulk-billing clinics were no longer on the register, having either closed or been removed for other reasons. However, 124 clinics switched from mixed billing to fully bulk billing, while 35 new dedicated bulk-billing clinics were added to the register.

WRAD Health’s determination to stick with bulk billing comes despite tough financial challenges.

CEO Mark Powell said the organisation’s mission was to provide accessible services to the local community.

“We’re a not-for-profit organisation and running bulk billing practices are a service to the community first and foremost, ensuring access to healthcare for those vulnerable people unable to pay out of pocket,” he said.

“We want to be as accessible as we can to the community and believe that bulk billing is one way of achieving that. Access to free healthcare given the current financial pressures means people can get medical care in a timely way.

“It can prevent the need for more costly healthcare such as going to hospital.”

Mr Powell said he was aware of cases where people had avoided going to a doctor because they were worried about costs but eventually had to go to hospital to have the problem treated.

Bulk billing clinics increase accessibility to affordable health care, encourage regular health check-ups, support vulnerable people and families, a comprehensive care approach to chronic disease management, and reduce healthcare costs.

“Especially in regional areas like Warrnambool, where income levels may vary and access to healthcare can be limited, bulk billing practices play a crucial role in providing necessary medical care to a larger portion of the population.”

Despite the importance of bulk-billing clinics, more are finding it is no longer financially viable to be bulk-billing-only general practitioners.

WRAD Health says the community can play its part in retaining this local service. “It’s nice for the local community to know there is a bulk billing service here. That’s something for the community to be proud of and support,” Mr Powell said.

He admitted maintaining the clinic was challenging. “We are covered through Medicare for the doctor’s time but there are other aspects of a consult that aren’t funded,” Mr Powell said.

“If the community wants the services of WRAD Health to grow, it needs to show its support. If people value having this free service in the community, they can donate by contacting

Mr Powell said there were still misconceptions about WRAD Health, with some people not realising it is a general medical clinic.

“The change of name from Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre to WRAD Health was to address that and show we are delivering more general health care,” he said.

“The medical practice runs as a general medical practice and people attend for a vast array of medical reasons including mental health concerns, management of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases, skin health checks, sexual and reproductive health, procedures and immunisations.”

Mr Powell also laid to rest any misconception that bulk billing GP services are not as good as clinics that charge gap fees.

“We have well-respected and experienced doctors who have been in the community for many years and we reinvest in their knowledge and development. The service here is as good as any clinic.”

WRAD Health has eight full and part-time doctors and also hosts GP registrars. “The feedback from our doctors is that they love working here. They appreciate what we are trying to achieve for the community and find it a positive environment to work in.”

WRAD Health is also a strong supporter of training and development and regularly hosts registrars and doctors in training.

For Mr Powell, providing affordable care to the community is part of the attraction of WRAD Health.

“Personally, I really enjoy working for an organisation that has these kinds of values and is working to support the community and the feedback from patients is also very positive.

“People appreciate that they can seek the care they need without worrying about financial barriers.”

Additional information: Gunditjmara provides fully bulk billing services and headspace is fully bulk billing for people aged under 25.

Injecting room campaigner to inspire Warrnambool residents


Injecting room campaigner to inspire Warrnambool residents

One of the leading campaigners behind the creation of a medically supervised injecting room in Richmond hopes to inspire Warrnambool residents to keep up their campaign for the Lookout residential rehabilitation centre.

WRAD Health and the Warrnambool Library and Learning Centre will host author Judy Ryan at the library from 5-6.30pm on Tuesday, April 16.

It is first in a new series of “Sticky Subjects” panel discussions at the library that will invite the public to explore their way of thinking about complex issues.

Ms Ryan says her message is simple – if she can identify a problem and do something about it, so can others. “I will tell my story as an accidental activist and then throw it open to the audience – is there an issue here and is there something you can do about it?”

During her Warrnambool presentation, Ms Ryan will be joined by WRAD Health CEO Mark Powell and program manager for Brophy Family and Youth Services’ youth AOD program DARE, Jess Moloney, who will talk about the local drug and alcohol situation.

Ms Ryan said the campaign for the Lookout residential rehabilitation centre was a great example where “people can become activists without marching up and down the street”.

“It can be as easy as contacting your local politician; we can change the world just by doing that.”

Ms Ryan released her book ‘You Talk We Die’ last year, received an OAM in 2022 for services to community health and has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel overseas in late 2024 to learn how drug-impacted communities engage governments to save lives using health-based solutions.

She said Warrnambool people could follow her lead in successfully campaigning for a much-needed health facility.

Originally from country Victoria, after raising her family Ms Ryan moved to Melbourne in 2012 and saw a problem and realised something needed to happen.

“I’d lived in Richmond in the late 70s and knew there were drugs, but after we moved here in 2012, I was totally shocked at the extent of the public health crisis. We couldn’t get in or out of our homes because someone had overdosed. Non-medical people like me were going up to people who were slumped over to see if they have a pulse, ring 000 and stay with them until the ambos came.

In 2016 she came home and found a young man collapsed at her back gate. “That was my turning point. People are dying in our streets and no-one is doing anything. I said `they’ should do something and my husband John Riddiford said `who’s they’?

“I didn’t see the people with addiction as junkies; I saw them as someone’s child or grandchild that needed some help.”

Ms Ryan googled heroin overdose deaths and saving lives and found the Sydney injecting room. “I thought, that’s what we need in Richmond…but what could I do?”

She stood as an independent local government candidate on the single issue of a supervised injecting facility in Richmond and polled better than expected, giving her a mandate to continue. She visited the Sydney injecting room and found it treated people with respect, kept them alive and offered them support to get off drugs.

“I brought together a group of people I met during the election campaign and we ran community forums and a rally in 2017. It was a great community building experience and that changed the government’s mind, along with three coroners’ reports recommending a facility.”

The safe injecting room opened as a trial in 2018 and became permanent in 2023.

Despite some negativity, Ms Ryan says it has been a success. “Trained staff have managed nearly 8,000 overdoses, with no deaths in the facility. Two independent reviews have been very positive. Generally speaking, people living near the facility are pleased as it has reduced the amount of people injecting, overdosing and dying in their gardens and carports.”

Ms Ryan is also involved in the campaign for another supervised injecting room in the Melbourne CBD.

She says it’s up to local communities to push for facilities if they’re needed. “It’s about evidence,” she said. “There’s no use sending country people to other areas for support. People need to be near their families to get the support they need. It just doesn’t work to send someone from the country to Melbourne.”

For bookings visit:

or contact the library on 5559 4990.

Family voices need to be heard


WRAD Health CEO Mark Powell has backed calls by families for a harm reduction approach towards people with addiction rather than a punitive stand.

Speaking on the eve of International Family Drug Support Day on February 24, Mr Powell said WRAD Health strongly supported the engagement of families and recognised the important role they play in the care and treatment of anyone struggling with substance disorders.

He backed calls from Family Drug Support (FDS), for more recognition of the voice of families.

Founder and CEO of FDS, Tony Trimingham OAM, who started the organisation after the death of his son Damien 25 years ago, said it was now abundantly clear that the national drug policy debate was missing a critically important voice – families.

“When a family member is badly impacted by substance use, it can break you. It can break relationships. It can break families. Broken families weaken communities and are often hard to see, because we’re all very good at hiding the issue.

“It appears everyone has a say on our current drug policies, including politicians, police, religious leaders and media commentators, yet families are too often left out of these discussions, despite being the people, along with the people using drugs, most affected by the current policies.”

Mr Trimingham said that in FDS’s recent Voices to be Heard Survey of more than 600 family members affected by someone else’s drug and alcohol use, families were unambiguous about their deep dissatisfaction with the status quo regarding drug policy.

“This was especially the case with the zealousness of government to pursue the punitive responses rather than those of compassion, which are far more effective in reducing harm and exacerbating problems for families.”

In looking at the results of the survey, families overwhelmingly support the following: • Needle & syringe programs (87.5%) • Pill testing services (85.7%) • Pharmacotherapy (methadone, buprenorphine etc.) programs (86.3%) • Medically supervised injecting centres (83.1%) • Medicinal cannabis (83.9%) • Prescription heroin programs (74.8%)

In addition, families wanted to see resources allocated to harm reduction strategies by a factor of almost 7:1 when compared to law enforcement strategies.

The reality being experienced by families from the extraordinarily harmful legal consequences of drug use resulted in families overwhelmingly supporting the legalisation of cannabis and strongly supporting the decriminalisation of all currently illicit drugs.

Furthermore, it is also clear that families often try tough love approaches (60%) when trying to deal with drug and alcohol issues with family members but find them to be ineffective and problematic. As a result, families become far more in favour of strategies that encourage connection and coping (86%), with as few as 10% continuing to support tough love approaches.

Mr Powell said the survey shows families support a harm reduction approach. “They recognise that a punitive approach to people with addiction is unhelpful and doesn’t engage them into treatment, creating even greater risk.

“This is echoed people working in the field.”

WRAD Health has been facilitating groups for families for several years and recognises the impact and distress families face and some of the barriers to treatment for them including feelings of anger, guilt, shame and stigma.

“Hopefully days such as IFDS bring a spotlight to their experiences and further breakdown those barriers,” Mr Powell said.

WRAD Health continues to support and advocate for focused interventions for families and significant others of someone using substances.

New report highlights alcohol concerns


WRAD Health is concerned that parents need more information on alcohol in response to the Australia Drug Foundation’s new report

Alcohol is the number one primary substance use issue for people in south-west Victoria and has remained so year-on-year.

WRAD Health CEO Mark Powell said alcohol was an embedded part of our culture so parents and care givers need to be armed with the right information.

The report found nearly two-thirds (65%) of Australian high school students in 2022/23 reported having ever consumed alcohol, including a few sips. Overall, 44% had consumed an alcoholic drink in the past year, 22% had drank in the past month, and around one-in-10 (11%) said they had consumed alcohol in the past week.

Of the 11% who drank in the past week (classified as ‘current drinkers’):

  • Almost half (47%) obtained their last alcoholic drink from a parent.
  • Around one-third (35%) reported they had the intention to get drunk either most times or every time they consumed alcohol.
  • Over half (54%) had experienced at least one negative outcome in the past year after drinking alcohol, such as vomiting, doing something they regretted, or trying smoking or drugs.
  • The most common type of alcohol usually consumed were spirits or pre-mixed spirits.

WRAD Health, along with a number of other key agencies, has embarked on a campaign to educate the community on the NHMRC guidelines for alcohol consumption; no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks in any one occasion as a safer level of consumption.

Mr Powell said he was very concerned at the figure of 11% of young people drinking weekly. “That is a figure that requires much further understanding as there may be many reasons for such regular use that we know is high risk for a number of adverse outcomes,” he said.

Any parents who are concerned around having the conversation feel free to contact WRAD Health for more information or if you want to know more about the programs that WRAD Health offers can call 55 645 777 or email or visit

Some tips for families;

Talking to teenagers about alcohol is an important and potentially challenging conversation. Here are some tips to help parents approach this topic:

Choose the right time. Don’t do this when the have just come home after drinking session or have all their mates around putting pressure on them. Choose a time when everyone is calm and not in the midst of other activities or distractions.

Be Open and Approachable: Approach the conversation with a non-judgmental and open attitude. Make it clear that you are there to listen and understand their perspective and that this is not going to be a “lecture”. Use “I” statements to express your feelings and concerns, rather than sounding accusatory.

Share Information: Provide factual information about the risks and consequences of alcohol use, including both short-term and long-term effects. Use the NHMRC guidelines as a talking point such what you do you know about standard drinks? What do you think about only having 4 standard drinks on any one occasion? Share any personal experiences or stories that might emphasize the importance of responsible drinking.

Set clear expectations: Clearly communicate your expectations regarding alcohol use, especially if your teenager is approaching the legal drinking age. Emphasize the importance of responsible and moderate drinking, if they choose to drink at all.

Discuss Peer Pressure Address the issue of peer pressure and discuss strategies for resisting it. Encourage them to make decisions based on their own values and beliefs.

Talk about boundaries and safety: Discuss the importance of setting and respecting personal boundaries, as well as looking out for the safety of themselves and their friends when in situations involving alcohol.

Encourage open conversations; Let your teenager know that they can come to you with questions or concerns about alcohol at any time. Encourage open and honest communication.

Be a good role model Demonstrate responsible drinking behaviour yourself, as teenagers often learn from the examples set by their parents. If you don’t drink, explain your reasons for abstaining, reinforcing the idea that it’s a personal choice.

Discuss Legal consequences Make sure your teenager understands the legal consequences of underage drinking. This may include legal trouble, potential fines, and the impact on their future opportunities.

Reinforce positive behaviour: I think this one is most important to notice and acknowledge the positive choices and behaviours our young people do as they will be more likely to repeat them. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator.

Artwork honours Patron


WRAD Health is now proudly displaying a special painting of Patron Ruby Hunter, kindly donated Ruby’s friend artist Bindii Cody Nappangarttii Smith and her brother Eric Richards.

Ruby was posthumously made a Patron of WRAD Health last year, joining her late partner and fellow musician Archie Roach.

This painting serves as a living tribute, to the spirit of Ruby Hunter. Ruby was a trailblazer in the world of music and a beacon of strength, resilience and creativity and a source of inspiration for generations to come.
Ruby’s brother Eric Richards endorsed the artwork, saying it reflected a deep appreciation for what his sister represents in her journey and a desire to share her legacy with the world.

Bindii is a truly gifted artist whose brushstrokes bring stories to life and WRAD Health appreciates the generosity of this donation to celebrate Ruby’s enduring impact.

Sharing Stories launched


Here’s a YouTube link to the video.

The “Sharing Stories” project is a powerful initiative led by Warrnambool library in partnership with WRAD Health that sheds light on the transformative journeys of people who have overcome addiction and moved towards a life of fulfillment and freedom. The emphasis on the importance of support and connection in this process is particularly important.

The project brings to light the struggles that individuals face in their journey from addiction to recovery, providing both an inspiring and informative path for others who may be going through similar challenges.

The storytelling aspect is crucial, as personal narratives often carry a unique perspective that statistics and research may lack. Through these stories, they humanise the issue of addiction, allowing the audience to connect emotionally with the experiences of those who have struggled and triumphed.

The goal of the participants is reducing stigma surrounding addiction, helping individuals feel more comfortable seeking help. By showcasing that recovery is possible and emphasising the significance of compassion, the project encourages a shift in societal attitudes towards those dealing with addiction.

Documenting and sharing success stories can contribute significantly to raising awareness and fostering a supportive environment for those on the path to recovery.

We hope this project demonstrates a valuable and compassionate effort that has the potential to inspire positive change in our community by promoting understanding, empathy, and support for individuals facing the challenges of addiction.

Please like and share this short animation that was the culmination of the combined stories of the participants.

Here’s the link developed by Gareth Colliton and Alex Francis from One Day Studios

SHARING STORIES is funded by the State Library Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria Libraries for Health and Wellbeing Innovation Grants.



Notice of AGM


WRAD Health.
Notice is hereby given that the 40th Annual
General Meeting will be held on Thursday December 7 at WRAD Health 172 Merri Street, commencing at 5.30pm.
Members of the public are welcome to
attend. Please RSVP for catering purposes at

WRAD Health joins 77 agencies calling for drug checking system


WRAD Health has joined 77 community agencies calling for the introduction of a drug checking system to save lives in Victoria.

The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association (VAADA) in collaboration with RMIT University today released a statement supported by 77 health and community agencies highlighting the dire need for a drug checking and enhanced public alert system to be implemented in Victoria.

VAADA initiated the campaign to call on the Victorian Government to adopt the unequivocal recommendation of the Coroners Court of Victoria to create a drug checking service for the state, believing this will save lives and provide information on emerging harmful substances prior to consumption.

The campaign is in response to a surge in fatal overdose of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) which mimic established substances but are often more harmful.

WRAD Health acting CEO Mark Powell said the proposed testing service aligned with WRAD Health’s focus on harm reduction.

“Unfortunately, people can purchase substances online or from dealers but not really know what they’re getting,” Mr Powell said.

“Obviously safest use is no use but we live in a world where people have access to these substances and are going to experiment, so we want to make that as safe as possible.”

WRAD Health is aware of anecdotal reports about local people having bad reactions to NPS because they weren’t aware of the ingredients.

Mr Powell said drug testing services at events or as a standalone service would allow people to find out what is in their drugs while helping them make more informed decisions.

“NPS contributed to the deaths of 47 people in 2021-22 which is a shocking statistic,” he said. “The worst part of it is that many of these deaths could have been prevented.”

Testing also creates opportunities for drug education. “We know that every time someone tests a substance, services have an opportunity to talk to that person about their substance use,” Mr Powell said.

A testing process can also lead to broader public warnings. “If bad ingredients are detected, we can be proactive and send out harm reduction messages to the community,” Mr Powell said.


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