Advocacy Health Alliances in Australia – Just Health

While Advocacy-Health Alliances or Medical Legal Partnerships are still in their infancy in Australia (with some notable exceptions), they are best exemplified in the relatively long-standing medical legal partnership (MLP) movement in the United States. These partnerships have not only broken down the barriers to accessible legal services to people experiencing health issues, they have demonstrated the socio-legal impacts on health and the associated health benefits of effective legal advocacy on behalf of patients.

Advocacy-Health Alliances is a working title given by some legal practitioners in Australia to MLPs. Advocacy-Health Alliances is preferred by some because it better communicates that health and advocacy services both include but extend beyond the more narrowly defined medical and legal frameworks and professions.

The MLP concept gained prominence during the 1990s in the US, championed by the Chief of Paediatrics, Dr Barry Zuckerman, at the Boston Medical Centre. Dr. Zuckerman recognized that a lawyer could help patients navigate the complex legal systems that hold solutions to many social determinants of health, and believed that together, a doctor and a lawyer had the best chance of keeping patients healthy.[1]

According to the recent text Poverty, Health and Law: Readings and Cases for Medical Legal Partnership, MLP is a:

“…healthcare delivery model that integrates legal assistance as a vital component of healthcare. It is built on the understanding of three key factors: (1) the social, economic and political context in which people live as a fundamental impact on health; (2) these social determinants of health often manifest in the form of legal needs; and (3) attorneys have the special tools and skills to address these needs. MLP brings legal and healthcare teams together to provide high quality, comprehensive care and services to patients who need it most.”[2]

The MLP model has expanded from a single attorney service at the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children at the Boston Medical Center, to some 200 partnerships at hospitals and health care centers across the US with lawyers (including legal aid agencies, law schools and pro bono attorneys) and front-line health care providers (including doctors, nurses and social workers), serving a range of disadvantaged and vulnerable cohorts including children, the elderly, patients with cancer, pregnant women, the formerly incarcerated re-entering the community and other vulnerable populations.[3]  While MLPs vary widely, all engage in three core activities: providing legal assistance in the healthcare setting, transforming health and legal institutions and practices and influencing policy change.[4]

For an online videos about MLPs see:

Medical-Legal Partnership: a new standard of care – http://vimeo.com/22233377

LegalHealth New York – www.legalhealth.org


[1] National Centre for Medical Legal Partnerships, Boston Medical Center, accessed on 31 October 2010 at http://www.medical-legalpartnership.org/about-us/history

[2] p 74 Tyler, Elizabeth Tobin et al (2011) Carolina Academic Press, North Carolina.

[3] National Centre for Medical Legal Partnerships, Boston Medical Center, accessed on 31 October 2010 at http://www.medical-legalpartnership.org/about-us/history

[4] Tyler Op cit p74.

Australian Road

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