NSW first hospital based Aboriginal Health-Justice Partnership takes justice to those for whom it is out of reach

RLC and Sydney Local Health District's Aboriginal Health Justice Partnership provides legal services to Indigenous patients based at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

The Gandevia Foundation has provided part funding until the end of the financial year.

Launched in May 2015, the service sees clients who would not otherwise access legal assistance and whose legal issues significantly exacerbate their disadvantage.​

Domestic violence matters represent almost 50% of advice provided, followed by debt, child protection, tenancy issues and family law. Many clients have more than one legal need.

The Partnership also works to train health care staff to identify health harming legal issues. RLC has so far trained 220 Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) staff in identifying legal needs and referral pathways, including SLHD Social Work, Drug Health and Post Natal departments.

Evaluation

In November 2015, clients and SLHD staff were surveyed as part of a formal evaluation process. Here is a “snapshot” of client and staff responses during this time.

  • Providing effective early legal intervention to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who would not otherwise access legal advice.

Prior to contact with our Partnership, 80% of clients surveyed did not know they could access a lawyer for their problem.

Jenny's Story

Jenny* regularly attended Drug Health Services. One day she reported she had been the victim of a domestic violence assault. After speaking to the Registered Nurse, she was referred to see our solicitor at the hospital.

Jenny was given immediate advice on Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders, how the Police will protect her and the Local Court process.

Our solicitor also spoke to our Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, ensuring that Jenny would not need to re-tell her story, and that she would receive assistance at court.

Jenny has continued to drop in regularly to be given ongoing support and advice around safety, and the court processes. She has stated that having a solicitor at the hospital ensured that she received legal assistance, and felt safe and confident about going to court.

*Not her real name.

  • Improving health outcomes for clients of the legal service.

Clients were asked what they feel would have happened to them without access to legal assistance through the Health Justice Partnership:

“I don’t know what I would have done” “Stressed, broke, unable to pay for things” “Putting up with violence at home” “Wouldn’t have turned up to court, would have been charged and convicted” "Up the creek without a paddle"

All clients reported feeling "less stressed" after knowing more about their legal position.

  • Building capacity amongst health professionals to identify legal issues.

In an initial survey conducted with a number of SLHD staff, all had stated that they were unaware of issues in their patient’s lives that solicitors could assist with.

Through the implementation of the Health Justice Partnership, 88% of respondents reported they "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that they had “the required skills and knowledge to effectively identify legal issues experienced by patients.”

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes has been that 88% of staff surveyed now feel that an important part of their role at RPAH is to "identify social, economic or legal issues that impact on a client’s health and wellbeing."

  • To find out more about our Aboriginal Health Justice Partnership, go here.