Sometimes vulnerable people need a lawyer, but are more likely to talk to a health professional.
It is an observation that forged a partnership between the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre and the Bendigo Community Health Service in 2013, embedding a lawyer with health professionals.
A $200,000 cash injection announced today by the state government will see the service continue until 2020.
The funding for Bendigo is part of a $1.6 million package for eight health justice partnerships across Victoria that were at risk of being discontinued when current funding expires, the state government said.
The Bendigo partnership was only able to fund a part-time lawyer in recent years, ARC Justice executive officer Hayley Mansfield said. Now, it would be able to provide one full-time.
Ms Mansfield said people often formed close and trusting relationships with health professionals like GPs, social workers and nurses.
“People develop a relationship with health professionals over the years. They often disclose things that they just wouldn’t say to other professionals. They often feel like it’s a safe setting,” she said.
“So often, people are hesitant to access legal help. So this relationship they have with health workers means they are are often more comfortable to utilise the services of a lawyer.”
A 2016 Australian National University evaluation of the Bendigo partnership found more than 90 per cent of the clients would not have otherwise sought legal help.
Health and legal issues were often intertwined. Many clients had more than one legal problem as well as a multitude of health and welfare problems. Researchers found their health was often impacted by uncertainty about their legal position or rights.
The research found a link between lawyers identifying issues at an early stage and positive impacts on medical issues.
Some of the most common issues raised by clients concerned domestic violence, but Ms Mansfield said advice was also often sought on child protection, minor criminal matters and fines.
A full-time lawyer would help enhance the coverage lawyers could give, not only because they would be more readily available but because they would be able to forge closer relationships with health professionals working on site, she said.