Partners in care: the benefits of community lawyers working in a hospital setting

Report on the cross-site evaluation of Health Justice Partnerships between three metropolitan Melbourne hospitals with Inner Melbourne Community Legal
Hospitals Public hospitals Legal services Patients Well-being Health equity Victoria
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Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) is a notfor-profit community organisation that provides free legal assistance, education, and advocacy to disadvantaged and marginalised people in the City of Melbourne area.

IMCL was the first community legal service in Australia to establish Health Justice Partnerships (HJPs) with metropolitan hospitals, and has now worked with three hospitals in Melbourne to provide free, accessible legal assistance at clinics situated within the hospitals. Offering a generalist legal clinic, IMCL provides legal advice on a variety of areas of law including civil, family and criminal law. Within Australia this is a new service model, and while there is no universal practice for HJPs, IMCL has included training and secondary consultations within their partnerships.

With the benefit and learning from several years of experience, IMCL has identified the essential requirements, as a small, locally based Community Legal Centre (CLC), for a successful HJP with the major metropolitan hospitals:

  • Relationships
  • Professional Training
  • Continuity and Presence
  • Evaluation
  • Broad engagement across all aspects of CLC work

These elements are discussed in further detail in later sections of the report.

Medical and legal practitioners have had a shared understanding for many years that the integration of services improves access to justice for vulnerable people. This view that access to legal assistance within a hospital is beneficial to the patient is supported by the findings of this evaluation.

By contributing to an earlier and safer discharge, through addressing family or civil legal issues for the patient, a HJP can provide a cost benefit to the hospital. The close collaboration between the health professionals and lawyers allows for coordination of care for the patient. For both the health care and legal professionals, the HJP has provided insights into how their respective systems work, and allowed optimal working relationships to develop.

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