West Yorkshire Combined Authority tackles mental health in the workplace with groundbreaking study

York residents experiencing mental health issues and the ability to stay in work have benefited from a new support scheme, giving them the confidence and tools needed to return to work and stay in work long term.

Funded by West Yorkshire Combined Authority, the Work Wellness Project was launched in response to an increasing trend of mental health conditions with those aged over 50, and the risk they faced of falling out of employment permanently.

Positive effect

West Yorkshire Combined Authority has published the Work Wellness Project report evidencing the positive effect the project has had on those involved.

The scheme proved that providing specialist non-medical support alongside the work of GP’s is needed and more can be done in helping those finding it difficult to return to work.

Work Wellness operated as a partnership between York Learning, City of York Council, York Medical Group and Priory Medical Group, providing support to over 60 people who were absent from work due to ill-health.

Innovative pilot

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Bradford Council, said: “Tackling mental health issues is a key part of getting people into work and helping them to stay in work.

"Work Wellness was developed as an innovative pilot which uses social prescribing to support people who were off work, or at risk of being off, due to stress, anxiety or depression. We wanted to test the effectiveness of referral to holistic, one-to-one advice, coaching and action planning as a means of tackling the full range of issues that prevented patients from returning to work.

"In this context, social prescribing is increasingly seen as an effective mechanism for addressing health conditions through referral to non-clinical interventions.

"I urge the health sector to read this report and help the Combined Authority to roll this approach out across the city region.”

Targets outperformed

The pilot hugely outperformed its targets resulting in 45 of those supported being back in the workplace by the end of the project. Five left employmentwith Work Wellness support and four managed to negotiate a redundancy or severance package with their employer. Fourteen clients who joined the pilot in the final weeks are still receiving support, including people who were on long-term sick leave and individuals who engaged with the project in its final few weeks.

The project ran within two GP surgeries in York. Both have higher numbers of working age benefit claimants than the York average and have seen an increase in total ESA claims since 2014/2015. GPs recognised that the support provided by Work Wellness went above and beyond what they were able to provide within the scope of a GP appointment and offered an accessible and unique type of support for low-level mental health issues. GPs also noticed a decrease in patients returning for follow up appointments, easing pressures on local surgeries.

Impartial advice

A GP working on the project said: Certainly the patients of mine had really good care and were followed up thoroughly for a number of months and [WW adviser] got some of them back to work or helped them to sort a lot of things out like their finances, I think that really helped them improve and get better because it’s not all medication, it’s time and talking to another person giving impartial advice”

Some of those who benefited from the project said: “Work Wellness helped me to rebuild my confidence. Helped me realise I had something to offer and wasn’t alone.”

Strength to challenge

Clients also commented on the useful support provided in terms of understanding HR policies or letters that their employer had written and more generally the work focus and support provided to getting them back to employment. Clients particularly appreciated the non-judgemental impartial and holistic approach, providing the opportunity to discuss all aspects in detail. Feedback included:

“Supporting me with paperwork, helping me understand all the processes, and to know what they should be doing to support me, and what questions to ask.”

“I was off with work related stress and talking my issues through with someone totally independent really helped me and gave me the strength to challenge the issues I had at work.” 

Although not initially an intention of the project, Work Wellness also contributed to awareness raising in the workplace on how best to support employees with their mental health. Feedback from clients and GPs suggests that its absence will leave a gap in support.

To ensure conclusive testing of the pilot, the project is also being delivered in Calderdale, where so far equally good results are being achieved. 

Read the full Evaluation of the Work Wellness Project report.