There is little doubt that our emergency service workers go above and beyond when carrying out their duties to assist, care for and protect individuals and the community when something goes wrong. It stands to reason that the psychological stress and pressure our front line workers can experience in the performance of their duties is significant.
It is therefore a very important step forward in tackling the mental health concerns of our emergency service workers that the Victorian Government has announced the introduction of a 12 month pilot program to enable these workers to access mental health treatment before a WorkCover claim has been accepted.
The introduction of this pilot will go some way to ensuring that these workers are supported and their mental health needs identified and treated from an early stage. Under the current Victorian WorkCover system, it can take many weeks before a WorkCover claim is accepted for a worker to access the treatment they need and even months when the claim has been rejected.
As WorkCover lawyers we see first hand how workers suffering from a mental health injury can experience more stress and even a worsening of their condition when they are not able to access the medical treatment they need at an early stage of their illness. Further, the stress and worry that can come from being out of pocket for treatment costs is likely to be eliminated for many workers with the introduction of this pilot program and may encourage emergency service workers to seek treatment early on which can only be a good thing.
Stage 1 of the pilot program will commence on 17 June 2019 where Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria Staff and volunteers experiencing a mental health injury will have access to reasonable medical expenses for treatment including GP visits, medication, psychological counselling and psychiatrist appointments. From 1 July 2019 access will also be opened up to CFA and SES staff and volunteers, public sector nurses, child protection workers, corrections and youth justice workers.
The pilot program is likely to extend to current and former emergency service workers and volunteers. Further, where a WorkCover claim is rejected, emergency service workers will still be able to access reasonable medical expenses for a period of 13 weeks from the date the claim is lodged which is a positive initiative. It is hoped that once the 12 month pilot program concludes, access to payment of reasonable medical expenses will be expanded to all workers injured in Victoria experiencing a mental health injury.
There is still much more to be done in this space to ensure that our emergency service workers are protected, supported and cared for when they experience a mental health injury, but the pilot program is a move in the right direction.
Director and Principal Lawyer