The NSW Mental Health Commission and Legal Aid NSW joined forces this week to host a workshop for professionals on how to better serve clients experiencing both health and legal issues.
‘Putting the Consumer First: Creating a Person-Centred Health Justice Partnership’ was held on Wednesday 29 March and was open to lawyers, health professionals and other workers in the human services sector who are interested in health justice partnerships.
Consumer advocate Janet Meagher and Uniting Recovery’s team leader of consumer and carer representatives Ian Hoffman led the first session of the day, explaining to attendees what consumer participation entails, why it is important and how professionals can meaningfully incorporate it into their practice.
Staff from Redlink integrated services hub in Redfern, Bungee Bidgel Aboriginal Health Clinic in Hornsby, and the Northcott Collaboration in the public housing estate in Surry Hills then provided examples of how they deliver ‘person first’ care in their respective services.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley said when health and legal services work together to put their client’s needs first, they embody the holistic, no-wrong-door approach the NSW Government has committed to under Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health Reform in NSW 2014-2024.
“This project goes to the heart of the Commission’s task of improving the mental health and wellbeing of people in every part of their life, whether that is housing, employment, access to justice or community development,” Mr Feneley said.
“By working together health and legal practitioners can prevent a lot of individual suffering as well as creating substantial savings for the community.”
Ms Meagher and Mr Hoffman’s advice for how health and legal services could put people with mental health issues at the centre of their work included:
- Remember consumer participation is about information sharing, not gathering: professionals must be willing to share information with consumers and clients.
- Remember that all partners are experts: people with experience of mental health issues can teach professionals things they will never learn in a university degree, and offer them insights that will enable them to work much more effectively with future clients.
- Look to existing consumer and carer participation policies for guidance: for example the National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum’s longstanding participation policy.
- Create multiple ways that people with mental health issues can participate in services: from basic feedback and complaints mechanisms, to consultation opportunities and joint planning, all the way up to co-design methodologies and consumer-led services.
- Eliminate barriers to participation, including: overly complex language in documents and forms; cynicism within services and staff; unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved; lack of trust of consumer participants; tokenistic engagement opportunities; and ineffective planning with communities.
Further detail on health justice partnerships and how they work can be found in the Commission’s Health Justice Partnerships in New South Wales position paper.