IPS in a time of pandemic

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6 May 2021

By Jan Hutchinson

Remember those days before the pandemic, when the nation’s rail terminals were full of commuters? That mass convergence towards the gates when a platform number was announced and up to a thousand people hoping to catch one train jostling through the barriers. Some wouldn’t get a seat, and those at the back of the crowd would find the train completely full before they got the chance to board.

Trying to get a job is often a similar experience. Even in times when it appears that plenty of jobs are available, there can be hundreds of people after them. Now that lockdowns and furlough have hit the economy and unemployment is rising, it will be more difficult to find a job, especially if living with a mental health problem has caused gaps in someone’s work history, or triggers high anxiety at interviews. We know that good employment is a determinant of better mental health. But without the help of an employment support worker, looking for work can be a daunting and disappointing experience.

Clients who find a job which is right for them say they can’t put a figure on the value of IPS. 

That help is provided by employment support workers using the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) approach to match a person’s skills and experience with a suitable job and a good employer. IPS works with people with mental health difficulties to find and maintain a job in an area they’re interested in. Embedded within mental health teams, employment specialists identify areas that the client is interested in working in, and engage with local employers to rapidly find the right job. They then provide support to the client (and employer) to maintain the role and manage their mental health whilst doing so.

IPS is proven as the best method of support into work for people with mental health problems and other long-term conditions. It has been tested and shown to be more effective than any alternative approach, across all continents and against a backdrop of different economic climates. It works because employers’ needs are matched with the skills and availability of a prospective employee through the work of the employment specialist bringing them together.

It will be one positive outcome if more people with lived experience begin careers as IPS employment specialists.

Clients who find a job which is right for them say they can’t put a figure on the value of IPS. However, there is certainly value in terms of social and economic benefits from helping people with mental health problems into work. We’ve shown that IPS clearly represents value for money. There is enough evidence from the many randomised controlled trials of IPS to demonstrate that the cost of providing an employment specialist is outweighed by the savings to mental health services. On average, IPS clients go on to have fewer and shorter hospital admissions and lower use of community mental health services in the longer term. And of course there are significant savings on payments of out of work benefits too.

Over the last three years, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan (and as a result of Centre for Mental Health’s evidence-gathering and advocacy), the Government has invested more funding in community mental health support, including a drive to increase the number of IPS employment specialist posts in England. This is welcome news for people whose mental health problems add a significant obstacle to their job search.

But just as welcome is the opportunity these new vacancies offer to people who may have experienced the benefits of IPS first-hand. Harnessing this personal experience as an employment specialist could be a fulfilling role. We therefore call on everyone working in mental health services to promote these new job opportunities to people using their services. It will be one positive outcome if more people with lived experience begin careers as IPS employment specialists.

As a result of Covid-19, many more people will experience mental health problems or unemployment. Despite this, IPS services are still working, and still finding the right jobs for people living with mental health difficulties

Throughout the pandemic, we saw news reports of the selfless hard work of NHS staff wrapped in head-to-toe PPE, treating dying people on ventilators. We probably didn’t hear about the work that continued in other areas of the NHS and social care – including IPS.

For instance, Mariana Law, Head of IPS for Richmond Fellowship across Wiltshire and surrounding counties told me: “IPS is an essential service – the employment specialists are key workers who have been out in the community [during the pandemic], supporting job retention and finding new employment for people when jobs are at high risk or have been lost. We didn’t just work from home during the pandemic, we met our clients in the open air and we continued to have success in finding new jobs for them.”

The pandemic has created a new wave of insecure employment. As a result of Covid-19, many more people will experience mental health problems or unemployment. Despite this, IPS services are still working, and still finding the right jobs for people living with mental health difficulties. The expansion of IPS services offers us hope that more people can get the right support to find work which boosts their mental health and recovery.

Let’s get better mental health support for all

The coronavirus pandemic is a physical health emergency on a global scale, such as we have never seen in our lifetimes. But it is also a mental health emergency.

We are taking action to help those at the frontline of this mental health crisis.

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