News.com.au recently reported that the NSW workers’ compensation scheme, iCare, is “accused of wasting money on consultants that could have gone to sick and injured workers after it splashed almost $5 million on consulting fees.”[i] Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said, “the government should have the capacity to be able to do this work in-house and it shouldn’t be paying double for what skilled professionals in the public sector should be doing.” Such statements made in the media and by administrators demonstrate little or no understanding of the skills and value of workplace rehabilitation providers (WRPs).
The NSW State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) commissioned Ernst & Young to undertake a comprehensive research study to investigate the impact of WRP services on return to work rates. The high-level results show that:
- for claims between 6 months and 24 months time lost, the appointment of a WRP improves the RTW outcome
- the timely appointment of a WRP (within the first 8 weeks) can improve RTW rates by 3% to 5%
- appointing a WRP early in the claims process can result in total claims costs savings of between 4% and 9%.[ii]
Imagine the broad social, health and economic benefits of 5% more people returning to the workforce after their injury!
The Australian Rehabilitation Providers’ Association (ARPA) recommends, to help significantly improve the financial viability of all Australian workers’ compensation schemes, that:
Where any worker is likely to be off work for more than 4 weeks, the insurer case manager must refer them to an accredited workplace rehabilitation provider for an independent rehabilitation assessment. This must happen within three working days of the triaging outcome. Triage is an essential component of the RTW process and should include timeframes for early referral to a WRP.[iii]
It’s certainly been my observation that for workers with protracted recoveries or poor return to work outcomes, the risk factors that precipitate such outcomes were evident very early on. Such risk factors may relate to the complex nature of the injury, to pre-existing musculoskeletal or mental health disorders, to workplace issues or even interpersonal issues. The people qualified to make assessments of rehabilitation needs to support and promote recovery and return to work are workplace rehabilitation providers – highly skilled occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists who are independent from the compensation process. To suggest that public servants or other administrators within government and compensation schemes are equipped to offer rehabilitation interventions shows a lack of understanding of the complexity in supporting injured workers through to recovery and return to work. If you get the chance, help broaden the community understanding or our role as workplace rehabilitation providers and refer your colleagues to ARPA’s position statement which demonstrates solid evidence of return on investment.
[ii] Impact of Workplace Rehabilitation Providers, Analysis of claims data, September 2021, Ernst & Young