Telstra Health has secured a $200 million contract with the Department of Social Services to deliver the 1800RESPECT telephone counselling service.
The telco will deliver the national domestic and family violence counselling service for an initial five years with the possibility of extension.
Telstra Health will work alongside DVConnect and other specialist organisations to aid Australians at greater risk of violence or harassment.
“Our priority will be to work with Indigenous organisations and other organisations that support communities who experience barriers in accessing support”, said Mary Foley AM, Managing Director of Telstra Health.
Telstra Health will take over responsibility for 1800RESPECT from Medibank Health Solutions, one of Australia’s largest providers of telephone and web-based health support services, from 1 July 2022. There will be a transitional period during which the two providers will work closely together to prevent any breaks in service.
Telstra Health says that it will apply a strong clinical governance framework to the delivery of 1800RESPECT.
In 2020, Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston released a Coalition-commissioned review by the University of NSW, which found that the telephone counselling service’s current operation model involves "financial risks" for the government.
“We have overhauled the funding model for 1800RESPECT, moving away from cost-per-contact to payment on the length of time support is provided so that the service is being funded on the basis of user needs.”
Ruston said that the government is making technology improvements to the service, implementing a ‘tell it once’ service delivery model to minimise the need for users to repeat their stories.
Several new technologies will be built into the service after Telstra takes over, including text messaging, video calls and follow-up referrals. The expanded services will also offer psychological support and referrals to those affected by workplace harassment and disaggregated data on workplace harassment incidents.
1800RESPECT first received ongoing funding in the 2020-21 Federal Budget, with funding in previous years being allocated annually.
Demand for the service has grown rapidly since its inception in 2010, increasing from around 20,000 calls per year to 286,000 phone and online inquiries in 2021. However, 2021 findings revealed that almost 1,500 calls per month were left unanswered.