Breaking the sicknote cycle

There are currently 2.7 million people claiming incapacity benefits – costing the country more than £6bn a year. One GP’s practice in north-west London, however, is taking part in a pilot scheme by employment charitable trust Tomorrow’s People, which has the potential to reduce this figure dramatically and free up GPs’ valuable time. The scheme, which employs the use of independent employment advisers, has so far helped nearly 200 people return to work and, significantly, 75 per cent of them are still in work 12 months on.


“The atmosphere has changed for doctors here. We at last have a service for the longer-term unemployed,” says Dr Roy Macgregor, partner of the James Wigg Practice in Kentish Town, which is piloting the scheme. “It is a national problem and this offers us a lot of hope.


“For each person who has been helped by the scheme, we believe it saves five consultations over the next year. The benefits for their family are also incredible. As the individual’s self-esteem improves, family members are more able to cope so we tend to see partners and children less, too,” Macgregor says.


The James Wigg Practice has a trained employment adviser working as part of the primary care team in a consulting room at the practice for one day a week. No personal or medical history is available to advisers unless the patient volunteers information.


“Trust is so important. Our advisers know where their role starts and stops,” says Tomorrow’s People business development manager, Steve Swan. “We get people who we know can empathise and who are usually from the local community.”


Sessions begin with confidence building and move on to re-training, if necessary, and CV updating and interview techniques. Advisers will accompany individuals to visit a college or an interview if needed and stay in touch after they have been returned to employment. “The key is to help them get and keep jobs,” says Swan. “Our advisers are well-networked and well informed. They have to know about all aspects of government funding and be up-to-date on initiatives such as the New Deal and any work-based learning opportunities that are available.”


Those who have already been helped by the scheme include John Savva, who went from being a successful manager to unemployed and suffering from depression in two years. “I had really lost my way,” explains Savva. “I didn’t start off being depressed but the longer I was out of work, the more depressed I got. I had a total lack of motivation and didn’t want to do anything.”


After confidence-building sessions and job searches with employment adviser Faruk Noor, who encouraged him to talk about his barriers to going back to work, Savva found employment.


“John is an excellent example of an educated man who, for one reason or another, lost his way,” says Noor. “When I first met him, he felt everything was a mess and couldn’t see a way out of his problems. Now he is saving up to get married and to buy a house.”


Swan believes the scheme could work equally well for the business community. “Many companies have long-term unemployed,” he says. “And I’d encourage any organisations to contact us.”


At the moment, though, it seems to be generating plenty of interest in the primary care world alone. Since the pilot has been running, Tomorrow’s People has received unsolicited contact from 50 GPs up and down the country.


Macgregor acknowledges that funding can be a problem but sees the private sector as possible avenue. “It represents a great opportunity for the private sector to get involved in partnership working with both Tomorrow’s People and a GP practice for the community.” (James Wigg’s funding comes from the European Social Fund and the Single Regeneration Budget as part of Tomorrow’s People Getting London Working scheme).


One organisation that has already seen the value of partnership working is pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. It has provided the funding for a separate project in Torbay, where it has a laboratory. Tomorrow’s People adviser, Jack Oakden, who was himself disabled out of the Fire Service, works out of offices at AstraZeneca, and has helped 50 clients through the scheme, of which 70 per cent are in employment or training.


“AstraZeneca did it because it wanted to add value to the local community and support it,” says Swan. “What this also does is create a larger potential talent pool for local employers.”


For more information on the Tomorrow’s People charitable trust, visit

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