An exploration of Social Work practice in Emergency Departments (ED) of leading Australian Trauma hospitals

Ms Sharon Wells1, Ms Joanne Maret1

1Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville, Australia


Best practice Social Work includes timely, client-centred and strength-based interventions and processes. With little published research on Social Work services in response to major traumas in ED settings, this study aims to explore current Social Work practice in this context.

Mixed-method, cross-sectional survey and interviews with Social Workers.


  • Social Work service standards were associated with: 24-hour Social Work service provision; mean EFT of 4; formalised referral and assessment processes; continuity of care.
  • The hours of Social Work service and number of rostered professionals did not always correspond to peak times, or numbers of ED presentations.
  • Data analysis highlighted the high rates of major trauma and bereavement in ED, and specialist Social Work involvement in crisis-intervention, psychological first aid and bereavement support.

Published studies indicate the significant immediate and long-term psychosocial impacts of major trauma on the lives of patients and families. Social Workers are equipped with a specialised skill set to mitigate these effects.

This study found a mismatch between the peak times of major traumas, and Social Work service provision, suggesting a risk for patient and family outcomes, as well as placing an additional burden on medical teams.

Reaching benchmarked standards of service provision, as well as creating a dedicated Social Work role to respond to traumas, may improve patient and family outcomes, and ensure the simultaneous duty of care responsibilities in ED are not compromised.


Sharon Wells is a graduate of Master of Social Work (RMIT). With a background in Strategic Management and Communications, Sharon has initiated social and cultural change projects including the protection and enhancement of significant Aboriginal cultural heritage sites. Joanne Maret has recently completed a Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) and Psychology. With previous experience in the homelessness sector, Joanne has worked on relevant projects including Rooming House Closure Projects and her Honours research.  Sharon and Joanne jointly undertook a research placement at the Royal Melbourne Hospital examining the role of Social Work in response to major traumas in Emergency Departments.