From Isolated to Involved

GPs and other healthcare providers across NSW are being encouraged to ‘prescribe’ non-medical interventions to injured workers, through an initiative funded by the icare foundation

A lady in a red jumper is seen with a paint brush in her hand, smiling at a canvas she is painting.

With almost one quarter of people with a workers’ compensation claim in NSW being influenced by a psychological or social factor, icare, NSW’s social insurer, is funding an 18-month social prescribing trial. The trial, running since June 2017, has recently been expanded from a metro Sydney pilot to GPs and healthcare providers treating injured workers across Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong. 

The icare Foundation is providing $1.4 million in funding to Primary and Community Care Services (PCCS), a not-for-profit health provider to deliver the program. PCCS is working with GPs and other healthcare providers across NSW ‘prescribing’ non-medical interventions, like social activities including art classes and men’s sheds, and practical support like financial management education. 

Dr Chris Colquhoun, icare’s Chief Medical Officer, said this was a first for injured workers in Australia, aiming to support their recovery using a holistic perspective. 

“Each year we see approximately 12,000 claims where psychological and social factors significantly impact recovery. In addition, we know that the longer people are away from work, the greater their risk of social isolation and the likelihood of the onset of further mental health issues, which can delay recovery,” Dr Colquhoun said.

“Our goal is to help people have the best chance of returning to work through exploring innovative non-medical approaches which address the ‘whole’ person, their biopsychosocial needs, and not just the physical element in isolation.

“Research is showing how social isolation and disconnectedness have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental health.1 Results from the UK are promising among the elderly and those with chronic health conditions who have been encouraged to join physical activity groups and classes, and now we are introducing this approach with people injured at work in Australia.2 3

“The aim of social connectivity is to improve workers’ engagement with their local community and to teach them new skills. Through our partnership with PCCS we will be able to assess whether initiatives involving social inclusion can positively impact injured workers’ community engagement, physical health, mental wellbeing with a view to improving their chances of returning to health and work,” he said. 

Dr James Baker, psychologist and CEO of PCCS, said their staff assess each person’s individual needs and then link them with social participation groups to help improve their social connections. At the same time they provide them with access to appropriate support.

“For many people, social connectedness is strongly associated with their workplace. As such, an injured worker who is not at work is at risk of social isolation and diminished support,” said Dr Baker.

The results of the trial will be independently evaluated to assess participants’ changes in wellbeing, self-efficacy, physical health indicators and social participation. If the outcomes are positive, PCCS and the icare Foundation will consider expanding the program further across NSW.


  1. The Lonely Society Report
  2. Kimberlee, R. (2013) Developing a social prescribing approach for Bristol. Project Report. Bristol Health & Wellbeing Board, UK. (request a print)
  3. 2Dayson C, Ellen B (2016) Evaluation of Doncaster Social Prescribing Service: Understanding outcomes and impact.


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