Understanding your injury
Serious injury, as opposed to a chronic illness, is generally defined as physical trauma to the body by an external force that needs immediate hospital or medical treatment. This can be caused by:
- a fall or burn
- an act of violence
- the result of a road accident
- a natural disaster
- a faulty product
- a sporting activity
- an incident at home, at work or in a public place
The injury can, but does not have to, result in:
- long-term impairment or loss of a body function
- permanent disfigurement
- long-term mental or behavioural disturbance or disorder
However, being seriously injured is not only about dealing with any physical impact. There can be emotional, professional and financial challenges as well.
Coming to terms with your injury
Sometimes knowing as much about your injury as possible in the early stages can:
- give you a greater sense of control
- help you deal with any anxiety
- aid your recovery
To find out more, talk to your doctors and health professionals. Some of the questions you could ask include:
- What type of injury do I have and what are the treatment options?
- Why have you recommended this course of action?
- How long will the treatment take and when will I be able to return to work?
- Will I need rehabilitation and if so, what am I likely to experience?
- Is there a chance my injury could be permanent?
- Are there any signs that my recovery is not going to plan?
If you're experiencing any emotional unease or stress following your injury, visit Beyond Blue for ways to help manage anxiety. Also see section #6, Accessing support services, for more information.
Taking time off work
Recovering from a serious injury can make it hard to do your usual job and could require you taking extended time off work.
First, check your leave entitlements then talk to your employer about:
- how long the break might be and
- plans for possible backfill arrangements for your role during any absence
- your rights to privacy, job security and any support payments like workers compensation or CTP insurance schemes (if applicable)
- options for flexible return to work arrangements
Leave and notice
Leave entitlements can vary. Minimum leave entitlements come from the National Employment Standards (NES).
An award, registered agreement or contract of employment can provide for other leave entitlements but they can’t be less than what’s in the NES.
The types of leave available can include (but not limited to) one or a combination of:
- personal leaving, including sick and carer's leave
- annual leave
- long service leave
- leave without pay
To apply, you generally have to give notice and may need to supply documents (except for annual leave) like a medical certificate or statutory declaration.
If you were injured at work or as a result of a motor accident, additional leave provisions may be available as part of a workers compensation or CTP insurance scheme.
See the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) for more information.
Rights and responsibilities when taking time off
There are certain rights and workplace protections you're entitled to when organising time off or a change to the way you usually work with your employer.
You may not want to tell your employer about your injury if it is not obvious or noticeable.
If you do tell them, but would like it kept private, your employer can't share that information without your consent.
However, you must tell your employer if your injury affects your ability to do your job, or if it will cause health and safety issues for others.
If you have a work-related injury your employer is not allowed to dismiss you within 6 months of being deemed unfit for work.
This right is protected under the NSW Workers Compensation Act.
When taking sick leave
If you take sick leave while recovering from an injury that is not work related, your job is protected if you've:
- been away less than 3 months in a row (or less than 3 months over a 12-month period)
- taken paid or unpaid leave, or a combination of both
- provided proof of your injury, such as a medical certificate
However, you may not be protected if you've taken more than 3 months off work, even with proof of your injury.
Getting help with costs
Experiencing a serious injury can have a significant financial impact on you, your family and your budget.
There can be increased costs for medical expenses, specialist health care, and rehabilitation programs.
Plus, your ability to earn an income can also be affected if you have to take extended time off work.
There are different types of financial help available from the Australian Government depending on the type and seriousness of your injury, including:
- sickness allowance
- disability support pension
- child disability assistance payment
- mobility allowance
- pensioner education supplement
- telephone allowance
- rent assistance
If the injury was the result of a violent crime, you may be eligible for counselling and financial support offered by NSW Communities and Justice as part of its Victims Support Package.
Support for veterans
If you're a veteran, you may be able to get an income support payment from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Support for carers
If you are caring for someone recovering from a serious injury, you may be eligible for financial help and other services through the Australian Government's Carer Payment.
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
Some serious injuries can result in a permanent disability, changing the way you work and live.
In such cases, you may be able to get help with costs and support programs under the NDIS.
The NDIS helps eligible people access a range of government and community services.
It is available to people aged between 7 and 65 years. Other eligibility rules apply.
If you have income protection insurance, you may be able to claim for lost wages if unable to work due to a serious injury.
Your superannuation fund may even include limited cover for income protection. Check with your fund manager to find out more.
Each income protection policy has its own definitions and conditions, but there generally is:
- a set waiting period before payments start
- a defined period until payments end
- a payment schedule based on an agreed percentage of your income, either at the time of injury or when the policy was taken out
Check with your insurer or super fund manager about eligibility, waiting period and the claims process.
Other types of insurance that can help offset loss of income and pay for health and medical bills include:
- total and permanent disability
- trauma insurance
- personal accident cover
Private health cover
If you have private health insurance, you may be able to claim for various medical expenses and treatment costs not covered by Medicare.
There are 3 main types of private health insurance cover that you can make a claim against if you suffer a serious injury:
- ambulance - covering the cost of transport in an ambulance to the hospital
- hospital - help with some costs of staying in hospital
- extras - generally for treatment outside of a hospital, like physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services
All policies differ, so contact your health insurance provider if you're unsure of what's covered.
Health care, medicine and equipment costs
Medicare can cover all or part of the costs of some medical services, including:
- general practice (GP) or specialist appointments
- tests and scans
- most surgery and procedures by a doctor
Services Australia has more information on:
Medicare Safety Nets can also help manage medical expenses. You get back more from Medicare if you spend over a certain amount in a calendar year on:
- doctor or specialist appointments
- certain tests and scans
Recovering from a serious injury is not only about physical rehabilitation. It can also involve various medications that may be available at a reduced or no cost if:
- you have a concession or health care card
- the medication is listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
There is also a PBS Safety Net, which can help with costs if you spend over a certain amount on medicine in a year. Find out more about the PBS Safety Net at Services Australia.
Equipment and aids
If you need medical equipment to treat your injury, you may be able to get help with the cost of buying and running it from:
- Services Australia with a yearly payment to cover energy costs to run medical equipment
- Service NSW's medical energy rebate
- the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and its Rehabilitation Appliances Program for veterans
You may also be eligible for funding through EnableNSW if your injury is long term and its treatment requires:
- help with mobility devices such as a wheelchair
- self-care services
- travel costs to access specialist treatment
If you were injured at work
If your injury happened at work, you may be eligible for workers compensation, which could include support for:
- lost wages
- medical, hospital and rehabilitation fees
- return to work assistance costs
- lump sum payments for permanent impairment
The Fair Work Ombudsman has information on payments and leave while on workers compensation.
If you want to make a complaint or have a dispute with an insurer over a claim, the Workers Compensation Independent Review Office (WIRO) can help. They can also advise on:
- what types of workers compensation is available
- weekly income support payments
- how to make a claim
- obtaining free legal services
Regulation of workers compensation in NSW is overseen by the independent State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA).
They can help you find information on what you can claim for and how to make a claim.
If you were injured in a motor accident
The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) provides information for people injured in a motor accident, including:
- how to claim
- which CTP insurer you need to claim with
- eligibility details of common law damages
- applicable personal injury benefits
- CTP Assist and Care programs
- legal advice services
Your rights and entitlements will vary depending on when the accident happened.
Help to manage your money
Experiencing a serious injury can mean lost income due to time off from work and increased health care costs. This in turn can place extra pressure on your ability to manage your money.
The Financial Information Service at Services Australia can help you better understand your financial position and what actions to take.
Additionally, Moneysmart's Budget Planner is a free online tool that can help you work out:
- get a clearer picture of your overall financial position, which can make you feel more in control
- prepare you for unexpected expenses
- spot areas where you can cut back spending and save money
- guidance on paying council rates, bills and fines
Recovering from your injury
Your health service provider will generally be able to direct you to the appropriate support group, depending on the type of injury you have.
Additionally, there is a range of general and dedicated support groups and resources that could also help with your recovery.
healthdirect is a federal government-funded organisation providing extensive health information and advice, including guidance specifically related to:
State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA)
- what to do if you have a workplace injury
- the insurance claims process
- what to expect during recovery
- advice on returning to work
Brain injury trauma
The physical impacts of a brain injury can be visible, but possible impairment to your thinking, emotions and behaviour can be harder to diagnose and treat.
To help, there is a range of organisations supporting people affected by brain injury with:
- assessment programs
- recovery plans
- rehabilitation and therapy services
- community support groups.
Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Services is a not for profit specialist helping individuals with ABI live a more independent life.
Synapse helps brain injury patients identify and access the most suitable systems of care and support.
Brain Injury Australia is a nationwide referral program improving the social and economic wellbeing of people living with a brain injury.
Spinal cord injury (SCI)
There is a range of specific organisations helping people with a spinal cord injury lead productive, independent lives through rehabilitation and assistive devices.
With the help of community forums and peer support programs, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia aims to help patients:
- overcome barriers
- achieve goals
- live an independent life
The State Spinal Cord Injury Service works to improve the experience and delivery of healthcare for people with spinal cord injuries in NSW.
Going back to work or school
If you're thinking about returning to work or school as part of your recovery, you may want to talk to your employer or teachers about:
- a possible start date
- whether an awareness plan for other staff or students is needed
- what support services might be available
- any access restrictions if medical aids like crutches or a wheelchair are part of your recovery
Returning to work
Depending on your injury, you may not have to wait until fully recovered before going back to work.
According to the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA), people who keep working, even if they can’t do everything at first, can recover quicker than people who take a longer time off.
SIRA also advises that:
- the longer you’re away from work, the harder it can be to get back to work
- taking a long time off work can impact you socially, emotionally and physically
- work helps you stay active and can be an important part of recovery
- staying active helps to reduce pain
- being at work is an opportunity to reconnect with people and be part of a community
Employment Assistance Fund (EAF)
The Australian Government's Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to fund:
- work related modifications and equipment
- Auslan services
- workplace assistance and support services
Flexible working arrangements
If your injury makes it difficult to work, or forces you to work differently, you could ask to change how your work is structured.
Depending on the extent of your injury and its recovery period, a flexible work arrangement can include:
- part time or job sharing
- changed start or finish times
- compressed working week (more hours over fewer days)
- working from home
Returning to school
To make it as easy as possible for your child to return to school and attend class during their recovery, you can talk to teachers about:
- developing a back-to-school awareness and support plan
- making any modifications and adjustments to ensure safe access
Depending on the type of injury and how permanent it is, you may also be eligible for support programs to help with your child's studies offered by:
- the Education Standards Authority with adjustments to teaching, learning and assessment activities
- TAFE NSW with classroom assistance and, if you qualify, reduced or no course fees
Public transport assistance
Transport NSW offers a range of accessible travel services to help people use public transport with mobility aids. Find out more about:
Recovering from a injury can be more than physical. It can also mean dealing with:
- changes to how you live and work
- mental health concerns
- legal issues
Help at home
If you need help at home because of your injury, there are different services you may be eligible for, including:
- Meals on Wheels delivers food to your home, and caters for differences in diet, culture and medical conditions
- My Aged Care provides cleaning, meal preparation, home modifications and personal care to older people
- Veterans’ Home Care provides help to eligible veterans with cleaning, washing and ironing, personal care and home modifications
Additionally, the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) has information about domestic services and home maintenance help if you've been injured in a motor accident.
Call SIRA'S CTP Assist on 1300 656 919 for more details.
Living with a serious injury can be isolating. Red Cross offers social connection programs for those not in regular contact with other people.
They help you connect to your community, and can include:
- in-home visits
- outings to cafes, sporting events and other places of interest
- social phone calls
- taking part in community interest groups
Mental and emotional support
There is a range of services available to help with any mental health concerns while recovering or living with an injury.
These services could be particularly important for:
- older people and veterans
- those living in rural communities
- children suffering trauma from a serious injury
Talk with your doctor or medical specialist as a first step. You can also find more resources:
- Beyond Blue or 1300 224 636 for help with depression and anxiety
- Head to Health for a range of mental health resources
- Mensline on 1300 789 978 - telephone and online counselling services for men
- NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 for professional help, advice and referrals to local mental health services
For your family
- Relationships Australia for family and relationship support services
- ReachOut helps parents support their teenagers through everyday issues including how to deal with at-home study stress due to coronavirus
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 - free, confidential phone and online counselling anytime for young people aged 5 to 25
- Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health provides self help resources for people living outside metropolitan areas
You can also get in touch with a social worker through Services Australia.
Legal and government advice
You may have a need to engage legal or regulatory organisations during or after your recovery. This could be due to a:
- contested leave request
- workers compensation dispute
- compulsory third party (CTP) insurance claim
There are a range of support agencies that may be able to offer help, including:
- LawAccess NSW, a free government telephone service providing legal information, referrals and advice
- Workers Compensation Independent Review Office (WIRO) provides answers to general questions as well as helping injured workers solve disputes with insurers
- CTP Legal Advisory Service for independent advice if you've been injured in a motor accident on or after 1 December 2017
- SIRA's Dispute Resolution Service can resolve disputes about CTP claims
- Human Rights Commission, which offers advice and actions to take if you're facing discrimination on return to work
- the Commonwealth Ombudsman if you need to make a complaint against your health insurance provider. You can also get free, independent dispute resolution support