Published on Monday 15, April 2019


Partners in Care Launch


“We know our work in hospitals alleviates patient stress and anxiety, leading to better health outcomes. Health Justice Partnerships work.” IMCL Senior Lawyer Maie Gibney


On Wednesday 27 March we launched our Partners in Care Report with our hospital partners and the Hon Mark Dreyfus QC, MP at Lander & Rogers.  Completed in order to monitor and evaluate the work we are doing, the report has underscored the benefits of having community lawyers in a hospital setting.

IMCL’s Health Justice Partnerships (HJP) with the Royal Women’s and Royal Melbourne Hospitals “recognise the well-established link between health and legal issues”, explained CEO Dan Stubbs.

Senior Lawyer, Maie Gibney, went on to highlight in her speech that “Around three quarters of patients told us before the appointment that they were experiencing mild to severe psychological distress. Additionally, 43% of patients felt they were coping with the legal issue before the appointment, which increased to 69% immediately after the appointment.” Social workers reported that when a lawyer takes care of legal problems, it frees them up to focus on the health and other psychosocial issues the patient may have, leading to better patient outcomes.

The report identifies that improvement to patient access to legal help is a significant benefit of the model. 82% of patients had not seen a lawyer about their legal issues and 40% would not have seen a lawyer if not for the HJP. The main reasons cited for not seeing a lawyer were cost, not knowing where to find a lawyer or not recognising the problem was legal until hospital staff made the referral.

In achieving this increased legal access, the partnerships have improved the knowledge and resources available to social workers. As one social worker told us, ‘It has given me the confidence to speak to women in my care about family violence. I have learnt many services out there for women and myself.’

Clinicians further identified co-location as a significant factor in developing important relationships between community lawyers and health professionals to facilitate referrals: ‘…it means that you can be much more collaborative if you’re face-to-face.’

In presenting her perspective on the partnership, Dr Sue Matthews, CEO of the Royal Women’s Hospital, expressed how proud she has been to be in partnership with IMCL since 2009 as the first major metropolitan hospital embedded HJP. Dr Matthews spoke about the benefits of the HJP for a particularly vulnerable demographic: "Research tells us that pregnancy is a particularly high risk time for women in terms of family violence… a woman’s antenatal care provides an urgent and valuable opportunity for professional and appropriate interventions…" An alarming 34% of women accessing our service across all three partnerships experience family violence.

Lisa Wojciechowski , Acting (Co) Manager at The Royal Melbourne Hospital & NorthWestern Mental Health, noted the incidence of homelessness or risk of homelessness among RMH patients, citing examples of the tenancy work IMCL has conducted to support people to maintain housing. She also emphasised the patient-centered service model allows IMCL to provide ongoing legal support, well after discharge.

Hon Dreyfus was enthusiastic in his reception of the Report launch, voicing his support for the expansion and continued funding of women’s safety programs, community legal centres and HJPs. In congratulating IMCL on its work in initiating the project and the statistics produced by the report, he further emphasised that HJP’s reach ‘the most vulnerable Australians’ and are ‘a better way to create access to justice’.

Read the full report here.

Thank you to Lander & Rogers our pro bono partner for hosting the event.