Non-clinical service at York GP surgeries helping people back into work

A pioneering non-clinical health service recently launched in north and west York is helping people off work with mental health or anxiety issues return to employment.

The Work Wellness Service, funded through the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and delivered by City of York Council through its York Learning team, is operating at surgeries run by York Medical Group and Priory Medical Group.

A Work Wellness advisor will be available through both practices to provide holistic support to patients so they can better reconnect with employment, ease their transition back to their current job or, alternatively, find new work.

It is one of only a handful of social prescribing services in the country focusing on people currently in work.

Social prescribing, sometimes referred to as community referral, enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services that can support their social, emotional or practical needs. This project is mainly aimed at patients over 50 years old referred by their GP. It’s also possible for patients of York Medical Group and Priory Medical Group to self-refer by contacting their GP surgery.

The service aims to combat the barriers that business leaders have told the Combined Authority and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) can exist between staff and bosses when anxiety or mental health issues are identified as part of the reason for work absence.

The Work Wellness advisor will help set up discussions between clients and employers where appropriate to support plans for reasonable adjustments needed for a return to work. All work will be done without the need for NHS involvement, freeing up time for GPs, initially over the very busy winter period.

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of West Yorkshire Combined Authority and its lead on employment and skills, said:

“The Work Wellness Service being piloted in York is one of the few social prescribing models in the UK that focuses on people who are in employment but on sick leave return to the work place.

“We want to support what may be delicate and complex discussions between employees and employers to help both parties get the best possible outcomes and most effective returns to work, where appropriate.

“By using a non-clinical model, we’re also taking the strain away from GPs, giving them greater time and resource to support more people in the city.”

Cllr Carol Runciman, executive member for health and adult social care at City of York Council, said:

“Being off work as a result of anxiety or mental health issues can be a difficult time for employees and employers alike. The Work Wellness Service, delivered by our York Learning team, will help bridge any gaps in workforce communication and support people back into work.

“We want a healthy, happy workforce in York and the service advisers will help us to achieve that while ensuring that key GP resources are used to offer clinical support where it is needed most.”

Dr Andrew Field, a GP at York Medical Group, said:

“The clinical and admin staff are really pleased to include this excellent and much-needed support service for our patients in their journeys towards full functioning and healthy productive routines.

“The time and effort spent in supporting and encouraging people through what can be a tangled web of challenging bureaucracy as well as personal obstacles is well worthwhile and requires time and expertise beyond our standard remit in the context of busy medical service delivery.

“We are looking forward to building on and developing this excellent element of our social prescribing efforts."

A spokesperson for Priory Medical Group said:

“We are pleased to be able to support the Work Wellness project. We hope that there will be significant benefits to our patients accessing the service, supporting them in returning to work and maintaining employment, whilst living with mental health, stress and anxiety issues.

“Our Practice Staff aim to support patients with mental health, anxiety and stress issues as much as possible, but further support from projects like this provide an even more holistic service for the patients. Hopefully, the pilot project may lead to development of further support services for all patients.”

Since 2014, there has been a 54% increase in people aged 55 or over in Leeds City Region claiming Employment and Support Allowance for more than two years.*

*(Source: ONS Nomis data)