Hills has now trained more than 300 RPA staff on identifying legal issues.
It’s the first hospital health justice partnership in to be implemented in NSW but the idea is an old concept, having been successfully implemented in the US for a long time.
“The theory behind [health justice partnerships] is that legal assistance can help resolve factors that contribute to poor health and increased hospital stays,” Redfern Legal Centre CEO Joanna Shulman told Australasian Lawyer.
Working as an early intervention program, the partnership intervenes in legal issues that frequently exist in healthcare settings.
Having just hit the six-month mark, an evaluation of the program has found that 80% of service users would not have otherwise accessed legal support and that 50% of the service users needed legal support with domestic violence issues.
“Recent research by the Law and Justice Foundation has also shown that people are more likely to approach a doctor for assistance with legal issues- not a lawyer- so ultimately it makes sense for both disciplines to work together,” Shulman said.
“One of our clients was unable to be discharged from hospital because a stair railing in her public housing accommodation was not installed. Our lawyer was able to advocate for this housing repair to be done.”
It’s a timely initiative as CLCs struggle to stay fully funded, but Shulman said while the program does help target the most disadvantaged clients, there is no efficient way of dealing with funding cuts. Philanthropic funding from the Gandevia Foundation is keeping the partnership running.
Redfern Legal Centre lawyer Sue-Ellen Hills is heading to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital twice a week as part of a new initiative to help hospital staff identify legal issues and provide legal assistance.