Welfare Reform and Work Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by Remploy (WRW 50)

As requested, I am writing to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill Committee with further information about the Access to Work Mental Health Support Service (WMHSS). This follows exchanges with a number of committee members about the service when I gave oral evidence on 10th September.

Remploy has operated the service since December 2011, and since then has supported more than 4,000 individuals with mental health conditions to remain in work. The service is widely acknowledged to be highly effective, with more than 90% of the individuals utilising the service remaining in work following six months of specialist support. It has met its contractual targets, and provides a substantial return to the taxpayer by reducing the likelihood of unemployment and out-of-work benefit payments.

The service does remain largely unknown and underused, and we have capacity to more than double referral numbers. We welcome the Department for Work and Pensions aim to achieve this, and to work with a range of stakeholders to make them aware that this support is available.

Outline of the service

The WMHSS service is available to individuals who have a mental health condition and are on sick leave from work because of their condition, or are finding it difficult to maintain their wellbeing and performance in the workplace. There is no cost to the user or employer. Individuals must self-refer by contacting a central Access to Work call centre, and if they are eligible, are referred on to Remploy to begin support. From October this year, individuals will be able to self-refer to Remploy directly.

The WMHSS is delivered by a national network of vocational rehabilitation consultants (VRCs) who are all experienced in supporting individuals with mental health conditions to return to, or retain, employment and are members of the Vocational Rehabilitation Association. Support is provided both through face to face meetings and over the phone.

Service users can decide whether consultants engage with their employer, although Remploy typically encourages individuals and employers to work together to overcome issues in the workplace and find sustainable solutions.

Remploy’s contract to deliver the WMHSS comes to an end in 2017.

Potential interventions to support individuals

Interventions suggested by VRCs as part of the service are fully tailored to the customer’s individual circumstances and based on their mental health condition and job role, which explains the service’s high success rate. Common interventions can include:

· Workplace adjustments, including the potential for flexible hours, home working or a workplace mentor or buddy to provide additional support.

· Coping strategies related to working practices such as time management and planning.

· Condition management, with resources and information to support anxiety, stress or fatigue management, relaxation techniques, and many other conditions. This may also involve signposting to provision available through the NHS or leading mental health organisations.

· Support with disclosure in the workplace, and potential mediation between the employer and individual if their relationship has broken down.

· Employer education and advice on mental health in the workplace, increasing understanding of the impact of mental health conditions and how they can be managed.

· If the individual is already on sick leave, suggestions on a return to work strategy, particularly around timing, nature of tasks upon return, and any adjustments required beforehand.

The varied interventions outlined above reflect the diversity of our service users. Around two thirds have more than one mental health condition, and a majority have an additional disability or health condition. The service supports individuals with a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and schizophrenia.

Recent developments

Remploy has worked with the Department for Work and Pensions over the past year to simplify the referral process to the WMHSS, and to raise awareness among both employers, individuals, and health professionals. The Department has publicly stated that it would like to double the number of services users, and Remploy has worked with employers, trade bodies, the NHS and mental health charities to raise awareness of the scheme.

We believe that the WMHSS provides vital support to both individuals and employers, preventing people with mental health conditions falling out of work, while offering fantastic value for money for the Department and the taxpayer. Providing specialist support to people so they can remain in work is vital to the Government meeting their commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

I have also enclosed a number of case studies illustrating the range of support the service offers individuals.

Remploy submitted more detailed evidence on the WMHSS to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in June 2014, and gave oral evidence to the committee in October 2015. This is publicly available on the Parliament website.

If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

September 2015

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Gillian

Gillian suffered from chronic pain in her neck and shoulders and from anxiety and panic attacks. She took time off from her job as a lecturer due to her physical and mental health condition then decided to get help from the Workplace Mental Health Support Service, so she could return to work.

A Remploy Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant (VRC) met Gillian and together they developed a support plan to address her difficulties and help her return to work, which included; identifying what triggered Gillian’s pain and impacted her mood and a referral to physiotherapy services for additional support. Once her pain was more manageable, the VRC supported her into developing self-help strategies to manage her mood at work whilst providing her employer with information about mental health in the workplace, so that they could offer appropriate work-based support.

Case Study 2: Debbie

Debbie was on long term sick leave due to severe anxiety following a physical health condition that required her to be admitted to a tropic al disease ward whilst pregnant, which caused her baby to be delivered early. Our VRC identified that she had bonding issues with her child as she felt guilty for what had happened to her health, and she developed post- natal depression symptoms , which hadn’t been noted by her health medical team . This had a massive impact on Debbie's anxiety and she developed safety behaviours such as needing to clear her t hroat .

Our VRC started with a weekly planner from which  Debbie had to pick three activi ties to complete out of routine, such as taking children to school or making a meal. T his enabled Debbie to gradually increase her activit y in preparation for her return to work. Our VRC also helped Debbie start to take time out of her home to reduce possible separation anxiety traits once she went back to work. Our VRC also  recommended mindfulness sessions

As a result of this support, Debbie was able to quickly reduce her anxiety and safety behaviours and return to work very quickly.

Prepared 14th October 2015