Employment advice in practice to help get mental health patients back to work

Employment consultants in practices are the crux of a new ProCare pilot to help unemployed patients with a history of mental health problems back to work.

The pilot scheme falls under the two-year Work to Wellness trial, announced by social development minister Anne Tolley in August, which received $3.2 million of government funding.

For a handful of ProCare practices, the project has running for two weeks, in partnership with employment agency Workwise.

Consultants to create work plan

Workwise chief executive Warren Elwin says the consultants will meet with patients on an unemployment benefit and wanting to return to work.

The consultants will then work with patients to overcome barriers to work, including coming up with a work plan that health professionals in the practice can comment on.

Areas people often need help with include confidence, interview skills, CV preparation, searching for jobs and approaching employers Mr Elwin says.

He says advice about what people should or should not disclose in terms of their health, and how to manage any mental health issues in the workplace, are also important components of the service.

Barriers to work difficult

Health New Lynn GP Craig King has already made a referral to the on-site employment consultant and says he can imagine having hundreds of patients making use of the service.

A big benefit of the scheme is the criteria around referral are very broad, he says, so it is simple for GPs.

Dr King says it can be difficult for people to overcome barriers to finding a job and, while Work and Income New Zealand does good work, the capacity is not always there for higher need jobseekers.

He writes work capacity forms every day and includes the details of what his patients need, in terms of jobseeker assistance, but often nothing happens as a result of his advice, he says.

Getting people who want to work into jobs gives them self-worth and independence and helps with health overall, Dr King says.

ProCare chipping in

ProCare’s senior manager for strategic development Paul Roseman says this particular pilot is a partnership between ProCare and Workwise to demonstrate the benefits of employment help being within primary care.

The PHO is putting $120,000 toward the pilot, which will mostly go toward clinical services support.

He says across the practice’s patient register, queries have been developed to identify the patients that would qualify for the help, and they will be contacted by a member of the healthcare team to ask if they are interested in taking part.

During consultations, GPs will also ask eligible patients if they would like to take part, he says.

Goal of 150 patients

Across the four practices, Mr Roseman says the aim is to get 150 patients into work. There have already been 14 patients referred into the programme.

He believes it will take four to six months to get the desired number of patents into the service.

Further funding from the Ministry of Social Development relies on how many people stay in employment for 12 months.

Mr Roseman hopes the programme can be given an extension earlier than that, however, as markers such as how many patients are accepted for jobs and how many are still in work at the one or six month mark, will give an indication of the pilot’s success.

Employment as a health intervention

Mr Elwin says there is significant evidence that people with mental health conditions get better employment conditions when employment support is integrated with healthcare.

Employment can be seen as a health intervention in itself, he says.

For many people with mental health issues, a more intense level of service is needed in terms of returning to work than what Work and Income can offer, Mr Elwin says.

ProCare is one of several health providers involved in Work to Wellness.

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