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Study focuses on caring for those injured on our roads

PhD graduate’s research highlights the importance of family members in meeting the long-term needs of motor accident victims

Ten years ago, the NSW Government instituted a scheme to provide support for people severely injured in a motor accident on state roads.

The decision sparked an interest in Associate Professor Robert Gordon, who wanted to explore the ramifications of the Lifetime Care and Support Scheme and the level of care and services it provided participants.

“It was the origin of my research and the beginning of a long journey towards my PhD,” Professor Gordon said.

“I was really interested in how individuals access the scheme, and how two people with the same injury and treatment options can use services in very different ways.”

Funded by a $20 levy on each and every green slip issued in NSW, the scheme pays for such services as rehabilitation, medical treatment, aids and wheelchairs, and attendant care services for the remainder of a person’s life.

Professor Gordon, who is Deputy Director of the University of Wollongong’s Australian Health Services Research Institute, began to pursue a PhD in the subject, with a focus on understanding long-term service utilisation patterns and costs following catastrophic motor vehicle accidents.

“My PhD looked at long-term service utilisation patterns, rather than just the first year or two post-injury. What services are available and how are they used? What are the costs involved? What treatment is accessible?,” said Professor Gordon, who celebrated the awarding of his PhD during Wednesday morning’s graduation.

Often, these injuries require a wide range of services to be provided for many decades so it is important that we understand how best to meet the needs of individuals.

In response to the Government’s Scheme, which was implemented in 2006 for those who sustained injuries from that year on, Professor Gordon examined the use of services by a sample of people who had sustained a catastrophic brain or spinal injury between 2 and 39 years previously.

A focus of his research was understanding the role of informal care provided by family members and other carers on an unpaid basis, where there had been little previous research.

“The scheme does not cover informal care –– and I found there is a huge amount of informal care provided by family members who aren’t paid,” Professor Gordon said.

“The average annual cost of care for participants was $50,000 for formal care, but that number increases to $95,000 when informal care is taken into consideration.”

One of the key findings of Professor Gordon’s PhD reflects the frightening risks that young men take on our roads. The majority of individuals who access the government’s scheme, that is, who have sustained a severe brain injury or become a paraplegic or quadriplegic following an accident, are young men under the age of 25.

“Often their parents become their primary carers, but as they themselves age, there are implications for the government scheme. People with these sorts of injuries often live as long as anyone else, so the need for these services doesn’t end after a few years,” Professor Gordon said.

“The people covered under the scheme are not generally eligible for the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] but a lot of the issues that arose in my research are applicable to the scheme.”

Professor Gordon discovered that an individual’s background, and social situation, as well as the injury type and severity often contribute to the way in which services are used.

He is hoping that his PhD will help government policymakers and planners to ensure the services and care provided under the scheme cater to the needs of its participants, particularly when it comes to informal care.

Photo: PhD graduate Associate Professor Robert Gordon. Credit: Paul Jones

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Tagged: graduation