Working well

In the 2023 Spring Budget the Government announced their intention to introduce a Work Well programme. This, it was anticipated, would be designed to Integrate work and health support, thereby helping individuals who might be out of work, or at risk of falling out of work, due to health conditions.

One year on and more information has been issued about the roll-out of pilot WorkWell schemes. Fifteen areas of the country have been designated to run pilot schemes, starting in October 2024. These range from city conurbations such as Birmingham and Solihull, Greater Manchester, and North West London to more rural or mixed population areas such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, or Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Within these fifteen areas the intention is to initially identify some 59,000 individuals who would benefit from integrated health and workplace support. It is envisaged that those identified in the first instance would be in work but suffering from a mental or physical condition which has resulted in their being signed off work on a long-term basis. Individuals will be able to self-refer to the WorkWell service, or they may be referred by their GP, employer, or other local service.

Support on offer by the WorkWell service will start with a personal assessment, following which an agreed support and therapy plan will be put in place. This may include physiotherapy or mental health counselling, but will also include employment advice and referrals to other local resources such as training or support groups. Crucially, the programme appears to understand that individuals may require multiple levels of assistance. For example, the announcement cites an individual whose back pain may be so severe that it also has an effect on their mental wellbeing and that therefore they would require physical and mental health therapies.

As an aside, an interim report from a three-year project on the effectiveness of digital mental health technologies (DMHT) has highlighted the patient perception that DMHTs should be seen as part of a wider treatment package which might include regular therapy sessions and/or medication rather than as a substitute treatment option.

Initiatives such as the WorkWell scheme highlight the important role which counsellors and other health professionals such as physiotherapists can play in supporting people to return to or stay in work. Commenting on this Ash James, director of practice and development at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said: “Additional support to help people stay in work, or return as quickly as possible, is obviously a good thing and physiotherapists are experts in identifying a person’s needs and putting place a rehab plan, including any adaptations that can be made in the workplace.” However, they also highlighted the pressures being faced by health professionals including staffing.

Meanwhile Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “with the right support, people living with poor health and long-term conditions can find that good quality work helps prevent them from becoming more unwell. This helps people to live a fuller life, which in turn reduces pressure on health services.”