Francis Stanton, Able Futures Operations Manager, reflects on the successes of the Access To Work Mental Health Support Service.
In the four years since Able Futures started delivering the Access To Work Mental Health Support Service, the whole world has had a whole lot of challenges to deal with. I’ve been lucky enough to work for Able Futures since August 2018 when it started offering the first appointments to participants who were experiencing significant challenges to their mental health at work, and from the beginning we’ve known how impactful the right support can be to people who are at risk of falling out of work.
Since the Covid pandemic hit 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 of the Able Futures team who have supported more than 13,000 participants since we started, and 10,000 of those since March 2020 when the pandemic started to hit how we all live and work.
Able Futures is the name of our group of partners that delivers the Access To Work Mental Health Support Service across England, Scotland and Wales. It’s led by Ingeus 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. Each month we support more than 1,500 people, with an additional 600 plus new participants joining and starting to make an action plan for how the service will support them over 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 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.”
Our Vocational Rehabilitation Consultants, or VRCs, are all qualified mental health specialists with experience advising and supporting people with personalised plans. 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 in a public space. 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 public 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 in the latest customer survey we ran.”
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. These resources are there to be shared with participants with they are interested, however, we do not rely on them to guide the support we offer. We are here to listen, to support and to help participants make choices about what options are the best fit for them.”
As Jan says, every one of the people Able Futures has supported is different, and one of the most satisfying things about the contract is that it is flexible and adaptable to many different participant’s needs. Constantin from Reading suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in May 2020 which put him off work for an extended period of time. However, he says: “I have recovered very well, and I have reached the stage where I have started phasing myself back into work. I can't speak highly enough of the combination of helping materials that Hannah [my VRC] provided me with such as managing panic attacks and anxiety. This mixed with her knowledgeable, helpful and patient approach was extremely helpful in my transition back into 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 resources for supporting mental health at work.
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 service not being available, with there being long waiting lists, to actually have an additional support mechanism that we have been able to offer to our staff has been a really useful tool in our kit of information.”
All Able Futures employer services are provided at no cost. “Not having the extra support means that potentially we could lose a lot of staff to mental health conditions,” says Diana, who recognises that mental health support can prevent other costs such as recruitment for filling vacancies from staff if they leave work due to their mental health issues. For Allianz, promoting Able Futures “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,” according to Diana.
We’ve worked with hundreds of employers over the last four years, 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. From big brands such as Kellogg’s to local service providers such as Transport for London, as well as with county councils, NHS trusts and SMEs, I’m impressed by the appetite from employers to provide better mental health support for their employees and it’s been fantastic to work on delivering the Access To Work Mental Health Support Service to enable this over the last four years.