Mental health at work: new NHS Employers initiative

NHS Employers launched a national campaign today (3 March 2010) to end stigma against NHS workers suffering from mental ill health. The campaign, ‘Open your Mind’, will also work to improve employment rates for those with mental health conditions and help NHS trusts create better working environments for all staff. Nick Martindale looks at the initiative, and why it was needed.

Around a quarter of UK employees will suffer from mental illness, including stress, at some point in their working lives, costing 91 million working days every year. Yet 80% of employers admit they have no formal policy to address this issue, and 45% believe none of their staff suffer from mental illness, suggesting an alarming gap between reality and perception in UK businesses.

NHS Employers’ ‘Open your Mind’ campaign is designed to help the NHS, which is both the UK’s largest employer with 1.3 million staff and the country’s main provider of mental health services, tackle this issue.

The campaign will run throughout 2010, providing NHS organisations with information and resources for keeping staff fit and healthy. It will provide strategies for employing people with mental health conditions and advice on spotting the early signs of mental ill health, as well as suggesting where staff go for advice, and how best they can support themselves.

Factors supporting a healthy and productive workplace

• Promoting worker involvement
• Encouraging staff support
• Promoting autonomy and employee job control
• Minimising work pressure
• Having clear expectations
• Providing ongoing access to support, particularly the availability of natural supports in the workplace.
Source: NHS Employers

Further reading:
The government’s new mental health strategy
Mental health in the workplace

Benefits and initiatives

Gill Bellord, director for core membership services, NHS Employers, says: “Studies have shown employing people with mental health conditions is not only therapeutic to the individual, but can have real benefits to the NHS, such as savings to mental health services. Increasing the number of people with mental health conditions that the NHS employs also makes good business sense, as it delivers employees who are reliable and dedicated and often have a great empathy for the patients and communities we serve.”

Individual trusts are already working hard to tackle the stigmas, with several having undertaken pilot schemes. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust recently launched a campaign to change people’s expectations around what those with mental health issues could hope to achieve. A key part of this campaign is taking on those who have previously used mental health services as peer support workers. Eighty people will start a training programme this spring, with the aim of them all securing jobs within the trust by October.

North East Lincolnshire Care Trust has gone even further since starting its programme back in 2003, when it established Tukes, a centre to provide training and employment opportunities to those with mental health conditions, as well as offering catering and domestic services to the local community.

The programme initially started with a coffee shop employing two people, but now includes five cafés, a buffet service, a conference facility, a computer suite, a property maintenance service, a garden maintenance organisation, and two large cleaning contracts. Over the past six years, around 500 people with mental health issues have benefited, and more than 70 of those have subsequently found employment.

This kind of activity is likely to become more common in years to come, as the NHS seeks to reduce the cost of sickness absence, staff turnover and lost productivity. A recent report into health, work and wellbeing suggested that a trust with staff turnover in the lowest quartile could save £1.8m a year by reducing this to the level of those in the top quarter.

There remains, though, much work to be done in overcoming prejudice in the wider workforce, with 38% of employers admitting they would not employ someone who suffered from mental health issues, and a third saying they thought those with a mental illness would be less reliable than other staff.

Successful careers

“Employees who acquire mental health problems can continue to have successful careers with appropriate support.
The adjustments that employers can make that are typically suitable for people with mental health difficulties include changes to working patterns. For example: enabling someone with depression to work flexibly could mean that they work on good days when feeling more productive, and take time off built up at other times; or an adjustment to targets, so that they are based on outputs per month rather than per week, could enable a person with mental health difficulties to meet their targets.”

Bar Huberman, employment law editor, XpertHR

Guidelines and obligations

In this area, it seems private sector employers can learn from the experiences of the NHS, where organisations seeking to increase the recruitment and retention of staff with such conditions are encouraged to follow certain guidelines.

These include appointing one senior individual with responsibility for employee mental health, regularly reporting progress to the board and training managers in how to identify and manage any potential issues. There should also be regular one-to-one meetings, appraisals and staff surveys to give employees the opportunity to discuss any concerns they may have.

Aside from the business case, employers also have a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to ensure those with disabilities are able to remain in employment.

NHS Employers has high hopes for this campaign. Bellord sums it up: “Open your Mind will provide the NHS with the resources to become an even better employer for all staff, thus aiding retention and recruitment”.

Case study: How one trust has secured long-term benefits

South West London and St Georges Mental Health NHS Trust established the User Employment programme in 1995 to promote employment within the trust for those with severe mental health issues.

By 2009, the project had helped 223 people find jobs and, since 2001, a minimum of 20% of new recruits to the trust have had some experience of mental health issues.

The programme has had a dramatic effect on staff sickness and retention rates, with 86% of those who no longer need support remaining within the trust or moving into professional education.

The trust’s research also found that those with previous mental health issues are less likely than other staff to take time off sick.

Good Practice Guide

This guide covers the key actions and considerations for establishing disability-confident workplaces, so that disabled people are employed productively for their skills and expertise. It covers how to attract people, whatever their disability, to the organisation; how to make the application and interview processes inclusive; and the ongoing considerations to ensure that disabled employees, once recruited, want to stay.





Comments are closed.