Kim Garling

"Most people ... had abandoned their applications": Kim Garling. Photo: Dean Osland

Thousands of injured workers set to lose their medical benefits on Wednesday were given only four days to take advantage of a government lifeline, announced just before Christmas.

New compensation laws, to start on January 1, exclude most workers from claiming ongoing medical expenses following a workplace injury.

But changes passed on December 20 allowed them to continue claiming provided they had approval from their insurers.

WorkCover Independent Review Officer Kim Garling said most of the affected workers would be unaware of the last minute lifeline and doubted many would have time to gain approval for treatment from their insurers over the Christmas break.

''It's very unfair,'' he said. ''Not a lot of injured workers hang on the Government Gazette and that's the only way you'd know about it.''

Unions NSW estimates thousands of the 60,000 workers who are set to lose their benefits could have taken advantage of the extension but will now miss out.

''The O'Farrell Government has essentially tricked injured workers out of getting the surgical procedures they desperately require,'' the union's deputy assistance secretary Emma Maiden said.

''Thousands of injured workers across the state will now be realising that they could have received the life-changing operations they sought, if only the government had not been so tricky and deceptive.''

The new compensation laws, passed last year, will cut continuing payments for medical expenses a year after the worker stops receiving weekly compensation payments. Under the changes, they had to have undertaken treatment before December 31 to claim the expense.

With the December 31 deadline approaching, many workers applied for surgical procedures or new medical devices such as hearing aids before their benefits were cut.

Mr Garling believes many workers who applied were told by their insurers not to bother because they would not be able to have the treatment completed by the deadline.

''Most people who had sought approval but were not able to get the treatment done by December 31 had abandoned their applications,'' he said.

Nurse Marnie Bradford, whose back was broken in an accident at Nepean Private Hospital in 2002, requires ongoing spinal surgery which can cost up to $150,000.

The 46-year-old from St Marys only found out about the change when the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association issued an email to members three days ago.

''You can make an application with the insurance company but what's the chance of having it approved in a few days?'' she said.

A spokesman for NSW Finance Minister Andrew Constance referred questions to WorkCover NSW which confirmed that claimants approved by the insurer before January 1 would be covered.