People living in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw who have severe mental illness and want to stay in or find work will be given more support to do so thanks to a new partnership.

Rates of employment are lower for people with mental illness than for those with any other health condition. Most people with mental health issues would like to work but only 7 per cent of those with severe mental illness are in paid jobs.

South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System has awarded £1,101,877 in funding to an innovative public and voluntary sector partnership led by South Yorkshire Housing Association to deliver the new service.

The partnership includes South Yorkshire Housing Association, Citizen’s Advice Sheffield and all of the region’s mental health services providers  - Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust; Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust; South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust; and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

The money will be spent on increasing the number of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) employment specialists working within NHS secondary mental health services. Their role will be to support patients with severe mental illness in finding sustainable employment.

IPS employment specialists offer patients with severe mental illness coaching and advice, along with practical tips on finding a job and preparing for interviews. They search for jobs and approach employers on the patient’s behalf to identify suitable roles - acting as a crucial link between patient, employer and medical staff. As part of this initiative, patients will also receive fast-track access to benefits and debt advice through Citizen’s Advice, Sheffield.

Tony Stacey, Chief Executive of South Yorkshire Housing Association, said: “Innovation is a much over-used word, but in this case it’s the right one. This is a unique partnership between the voluntary sector (South Yorkshire Housing Association and Citizen’s Advice) and the NHS. The service will focus on what we call ‘good work’ opportunities. There is some element of fear about employment and health schemes forcing people into low-paid jobs they don’t want. We are not trying to expose people’s weaknesses; our model works with people’s strengths.”

Sarah Boul, Quality Improvement Manager (Mental Health) at South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw ICS, said: “We are excited to be working in partnership with our voluntary and community sector and NHS colleagues to help break down the barriers for people with serious mental ill health in gaining and retaining employment. Work plays a very positive role in keeping people well and the IPS service will contribute to people’s recovery journey.” 

IPS is a proven way of helping people with mental health conditions to find and retain employment. It’s twice as effective as other approaches, with people securing higher earnings and staying in their jobs for longer. It is also associated with reduced use of other NHS services including inpatient admissions.

Patients with severe mental illness wanting help to find work can refer themselves online or speak to their doctor, community mental health team or another mental health professional, to access the scheme. They will be offered work opportunities which suit their strengths, interests, and job preferences.

They will be able to call on trained specialists, who are embedded within health teams, at any time. Working alongside psychologists, mental health nurses and other health professionals the IPS employment specialists will be able to speak to potential employers about how best to support patients so that they can work effectively, while staying mentally well.

The service is aiming to help between 500 and 600 patients with severe mental illness over the next two years.

Research has shown stable employment is a major factor in maintaining good health and assists patients in their recovery. Those in work tend to be in better health, visit their GP less and are less likely to need hospital treatment, saving the NHS up to £6,000 per patient.

The project is part of the NHS Long Term Plan which aims to help 20,000 people a year by 2020/2021.

The IPS schemes, which are being expanded to 28 NHS areas in England, are highly cost-effective. 

Based on over 20 years of research, including 22 randomised control trials, the IPS employment model is internationally-recognised as the most effective way to support people with mental health problems to gain and keep paid employment.

On average, those who receive IPS show employment rates of 30-40 per cent compared to rates in the control group of 10-12 per cent.

Those supported by IPS work significantly more hours per month, have higher earnings and better job tenure, while some show reduced rates of hospital admission and less time spent in hospital.