Four years of supporting more enjoyable futures at work

10 Oct 2022

Francis Stanton, Operations Manager, reflects on the successes of the Access to Work Mental Health Support Service.

When the Access to Work Mental Health Support Service, started in August 2018, we knew it was going to be a hugely important opportunity to make an impact on how mental health is understood in the workplace. Launched by the Department for Work and Pensions in response to data that showed that people with mental health conditions have among the lowest employment rates of all disadvantaged groups, the service was designed by the government to offer personalised advice and guidance to individuals who were experiencing issues that affected them at work and put them at risk of falling out of work. 

Able Futures was created by Ingeus to deliver this service across England, Scotland and Wales as a strategic partnership, with Case UK supporting participants in Wales and South West England, H2E working in the midlands, and Salus and The Better Health Generation supporting people in Scotland.

I’ve been lucky enough to work for Able Futures since it started, and it was immediately evident how many people needed the advice and guidance our mental health experts could provide. Since the Covid pandemic we’ve been busier than ever as more people than ever find they need to reach out for support when they are experiencing issues such as stress, anxiety, and low moods. It makes me incredibly proud that the Able Futures team has supported more than 13,000 participants since we started, 10,000 of those since March 2020 when the pandemic changed how we all live and work. 

Delivering mental health support

Each month Able Futures supports more than 1,500 people, with 600-plus new participants scheduling their first appointment when they make an action plan for how the service will support them for the next nine months.

The people who reach out for support are all different and it’s been amazing to witness the positive impact Able Futures has had on participants like Ricky, who says he was initially sceptical about whether the programme could benefit him. “I am so glad that I made the decision to self-refer. The programme over the nine-month period gave me an opportunity to speak with an excellent coach who took the time to get to know me and understand what I would like to get out of the programme,” says Ricky, who works for a charity in Cheshire. 

“The programme was tailored and included [a] monthly catchup and my coach shared excellent resources to support me in between each call. As a result of the programme, my confidence and mental health have improved significantly. It also helped me to achieve promotion as well. My colleagues have noted the positive impact it has had on my working life.”

No cost for advice from mental health experts

It’s been inspiring for me to see our mental health advisors working in their roles as Vocational Rehabilitation Consultants (VRCs) to tailor the advice and information they provide to each person’s specific needs. One of the participants who was supported by VRC, Siobhan Cooper, was at risk of falling out of work if she hadn’t received regular appointments with Able Futures. She says: “Siobhan has been amazing for me. I think I would have quit this job had it not been for her helping me to reframe my negative thoughts. I am very grateful. She has helped me find the tools I need within me to overcome the short-term problems…She is knowledgeable, understanding, funny and helpful.”

Our Lead VRC, Amelia Montague-Rendall, has worked for Able Futures since 2018 and has seen the way we deliver the support continue to evolve to meet our participants needs. “As an immediate response to the Covid-19 pandemic we moved all appointments to run via telephone or virtual meeting,” she says. “Before then, the initial appointments, and some other meetings during the nine-month participant journey, had been organised face-to-face. We needed to ensure that we could continue to support participants during the lockdowns and beyond. As VRCs we’ve seen the benefits of being able to conduct appointments with participants via telephone or video call because people can take the calls wherever they feel most comfortable, rather than having to travel to a meeting place and then speak about what is on their mind in an unfamiliar setting. It’s paying off for participants as well, with 77% saying telephone or video calls were their preferred method of contact for appointments.”

Jan Montgomery, our Clinical Supervision Manager says, “I’m lucky enough to supervise and support 40 amazing VRCs, who are fully qualified mental health practitioners. They are all experienced in dealing with the many different issues that are affecting people at work. Each individual participant can expect a bespoke service from our VRCs. If two people present with anxiety that impacts them in the workplace they will be worked with differently because we are all unique. The VRCs have a bank of resources which have been drawn from our collective experience and expertise. We are here to listen, to support and to help participants make choices about what options are the best fit for them.”

Supporting employers with mental health at work

It’s not just individuals who Able Futures has supported over the last four years. Employers such as Allianz have found that support from Able Futures is a useful addition to their mental health at work toolkit. Diana Salmon, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager, at Allianz says: “Using the service for our workforce and having it available has been an extra tool in our armoury. We have an EAP service, we have our mental health first aiders, but with the pandemic having hit the organisation and mental health services not being available or having long waiting lists, to actually have an additional support mechanism to offer our staff has been a really useful tool in our kit of information. Not having the extra support means that potentially we could lose a lot of staff to mental health conditions. It has meant that we've been able to keep staff working as opposed to them going on long term sick and that prevents a cost to our business.”

Able Futures has worked with hundreds of employers across England, Scotland and Wales over the last four years, from multi-national brands such as Kellogg’s to local service providers such as Transport for London, as well as with county councils, NHS trusts and SMEs, providing them with advice and guidance on how to support employees who have a mental health issue or condition, and awareness sessions on the interaction between a person’s mental health issue or condition and their job or workplace. Now the service has been extended for another two years we are expecting to be able to support hundreds more organisations and continue working with employers of all sizes and sectors.

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