“I didn’t know who I was anymore… now I am doing my job better than I’ve ever done it before”.

When Anne first came to see us, she cried constantly. Her GP had recently signed her second Fit Note, and the fragile nature of her mental health meant her job was in crisis. Twelve weeks later she was happy to be back at work, she was productive and thriving, doing her job better than she’d ever done it before. To achieve this outcome, we simply did a number of straightforward things in a timely manner using an experienced Change Coach.

Throughout 2019, Pluss has been leading a Challenge Fund pilot we call Workfit which is funded by the Work and Health Unit. The Challenge Fund is designed to test innovations aimed at helping people with muscular skeletal or mental health conditions to retain their employment.

Anne is one of over 200 people referred to the Workfit project which Pluss is delivering with our NHS partner Livewell South West. The fast-track referral system we have developed directly with GP practices, and the holistic packages of support we are providing to people like Anne in which employer advocacy sits alongside social prescription interventions, one to one mentoring and peer support, mean that 85% of the project’s participants have so far retained their jobs or stayed active in the labour market. It’s a cost-effective programme and it works.

We all know that a lot of work is done to support people with disabilities and health conditions into work. At Seetec Pluss we ourselves are at the heart of this industry in our role as a Work and Health Programme prime and as a provider of specialist health and disability employment services and programmes.

But as fast as people are supported into work, others are falling out. The 2017 Stevenson/ Farmer report, Thriving at Work, revealed that 15% of people with physical health conditions and almost a quarter of people with long term mental health conditions (that’s 300,000 employees) fall out of work every year.

It’s true that there are a number of tools already available to help with job retention. Reasonable adjustment, disability leave and Access to Work can all potentially contribute to a resolution. But these options are all too frequently disregarded as a crisis unfolds in the workplace. Positions on either side can quickly harden. Communication between employee and employer often reduces just as it needs to intensify.

It’s also true that as health professionals become involved, a person’s symptoms can be seen as problems to be treated in isolation. GPs with little time on their hands might see a purely clinical response as the most efficient way forward, and the opportunity to frame a holistic solution that includes resolving those challenges at work that are fixable can be lost.

But it doesn’t need to be like this, as our Challenge Fund experience has shown.

The way we talk about health, and mental health in particular, has changed positively in recent years. Initiatives like Heads Together and the Time to Change campaign point to a growing awareness and a shared language about our mental health and wellbeing that creates scope for genuine collaboration with employers who want to retain talent they have trained and nurtured.

The environment in which our sector operates is also changing. We have record levels of employment, increasingly delayed retirement and the potential impact of Brexit to come. All this suggests that we will need to bridge the two worlds of Employment and Health ever more effectively if, as seems likely, the workforce that will drive our future economic growth is to be made up of an increasing proportion of people managing long term health conditions and disabilities.

That’s why Seetec Pluss has embarked on an ambitious programme that will cement our position as a sector-leading disability, health and wellbeing specialist, and our Challenge Fund model is part of that growth plan. We are already busy talking to local commissioners and politicians in the South West about how to build on the Challenge Fund’s legacy, and we are in the process of extending the pilot ourselves and embedding it within our Work and Health Programme delivery.

For someone like Anne, thanks to the right intervention at the right time, work has become a health outcome. To get there, it made sense for Anne to receive fast-tracked support to resolve the challenges that were affecting her ability to prosper again in work as part of the same plan that provided her with the right medical interventions.

A sensible next step in the evolution of the sector may well be to see efforts to retain work incorporated as a natural part of the process of recovery that begins for everyone at that first knock on the GP’s door.

To find out more about Seetec Pluss’s range of programmes, our work in other parts of the country and to discuss working together, contact Seetec today.

0845 33 06 573 | enquiries@seetec.co.uk | Seetecpluss.co.uk