Enhancing Access to Income Support for Vulnerable Hospital Patients

Ms Sarah Booth1, Dr Annie Venville2

1Western Health, St Albans, Australia, 2Victoria University, Footscray, Australia

Financial hardship has been associated with increased rates of chronic illness, poor psychological wellbeing and low self-rated health. Sudden illness or hospitalisation can exacerbate financial hardship and challenges accessing timely government funded income support are well documented. This project reports patient and hospital social worker perspectives of a pilot partnership between a large health service in Victoria, Australia and the government funded income support program, Centrelink.

In January 2019, the Centrelink Community Engagement Officer (CEO) commenced a once weekly, three-hour on-site service. The CEO offered face-to-face consultations with social work staff and patients at that hospital, and by telephone for other sites; at other times social workers were able to consult on patients’ behalf via secure email.

Using a mixed methods design, qualitative data was collected via focus groups with hospital social workers (n=13) and semi structured telephone interviews with patients (n=9). Quantitative data was collated using service management administrative data, indicating referral numbers, patient demographics, referral reason, payments types and Centrelink interventions.

Preliminary results show the service was well utilised, with 112 referrals over a 12 month period. Patients identified that the service was convenient, provided relevant information, clarified eligibility, simplified application processes and reduced stress. Social workers reported that the service saved them time, increased patient access to income support, and facilitated timely discharges where financial barriers existed. Our study shows that health and social services partnerships have potential to improve patient outcomes and service efficiency.


Sarah is a hospital social worker who has been worked in the health sphere for over 20 years.  Sarah has a Bachelor of Social Work(BSW), Graduate Diploma in Health Economics and Policy(GradDipHealthEcon) and Masters of Public Health(MPH) (Monash University).

As well as having extensive clinical experience, Sarah has published in a number of journals on psychosocial and health related subjects.

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