By Greg McCarthy, Chief Executive Officer, WorkCoverSA
Since joining WorkCoverSA in December 2012, I have spent time meeting with the key industry associations and unions to look at some of the big issues facing the South Australian Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme (the Scheme).
Meeting these key stakeholders has helped reinforce some of my thoughts about where the Scheme has been failing to deliver return to work outcomes for South Australian businesses and their workers.
In many ways we have previously taken a passive approach to managing the Scheme. We didn’t involve ourselves as much as we should have. We put the process in place and then stood back. Now, we are moving from a passive footing to an active footing.
In the last 12 months I have established a new management team which consists of some of the most experienced people across the country in workers compensation from both the public and private sector. Each has the experience to drive better performance from the Scheme, particularly in the area of recovery and return to work.
On 1 October 2013, we implemented a new return to work services strategy focusing on pre-injury employer services. This strategy provides an outcome focused model that rewards providers who deliver better return to work outcomes, provides guidance to case managers on making appropriate referrals, and enables WorkCoverSA to measure and report on provider performance. This is so those providers who deliver positive outcomes are used more frequently.
It was important that we change the approach to the provision of these services as return to work rates in South Australia have consistently been below the national average and the costs for providing these services were up to three times higher than other jurisdictions. Something had to change.
In September 2013, as part of this strategy WorkCoverSA put in place arrangements for workers to access specialist job seeking agencies to help them find employment. This arrangement is currently for a limited period to gauge their effectiveness in the workers compensation environment. These specialist providers have considerable experience and a sound track record in job placement, including in the disability sector. We have already seen immediate return to work results for people who have been on the Scheme for years by using these providers.
This year on 1 July the second phase of the return to work strategy will be implemented focusing on services that support workers to get job ready and to re-enter the workforce with a different employer. Consultation has commenced on its design.
Our claims agents are expected to actively manage claims from start to finish. This includes selecting the most appropriate strategy and services to achieve a timely and durable return to work outcome for the worker.
We are, and will continue to monitor and review all return to work services to ensure they are appropriate and delivering high quality return to work outcomes and value for money.
After just three months of this new approach to return to work services and our much more active management of the Scheme, we are already seeing positive results.
The end of year results have seen significant reductions in income maintenance claims moving beyond 2, 13, and 26 week milestones. For income maintenance claims moving past 2 weeks there has seen a 15 per cent improvement on last year’s results for the same period, nine per cent for both 13 and 26 weeks.
We have already commenced a program looking at those that have been on the Scheme for 130 weeks, or 2.5 years, to ensure those long-term claims are being managed appropriately. In the next twelve months there will be a concentrated effort on assisting these workers to get job ready where they are able to, and find alternate employment where return to their pre-injury employer is not appropriate.
Our return to work services strategy is one initiative that we are implementing to address the issue of benefit dependency and the systems that encourage this.
On 1 November 2013 we launched a free early intervention program to support South Australia’s small businesses, which makes up about 90 per cent of employers in our Scheme. This program, which we believe is an Australian-first being implemented at a scheme-wide level, is run through our claims agents.
The claim agents have dedicated mobile return to work consultants, who are either occupational therapists or physiotherapists with specialist skills in workplace rehabilitation. Their role is to visit the workplace within the first 72 hours of the claims agent being notified of an injury or claim that after triage appears likely to turn into a longer-term claim.
We have already seen over 100 workplace visits as part of this new program. This early intervention is critical to ensure minor injuries do not turn into long-term claims and ensures the chances of a better return to work outcome for all parties is possible.
We believe these initiatives and our closer management of the Scheme will deliver better health and return to work outcomes for workers, their employers and the Scheme and at the same time reign in unnecessary spend on ineffective services.
We have clear service expectations from our suppliers and stakeholders and will continue to closely monitor their performance to ensure positive return to work outcomes are achieved.