Individual Placement and Support (IPS) for people with severe mental illness

By 2023/24, NHS England and NHS Improvement aims to help tens of thousands of people with severe mental illness (SMI) find and keep their employment through the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) scheme. The COVID-19 pandemic forced IPS teams across the country to adapt their services quickly to keep providing employment support in a safe way, but it also provided opportunities for teams to support their clients to secure jobs as key workers during the pandemic. Read further below about three people who were supported by the IPS scheme last year.

In April 2018, NHS England and NHS Improvement announced the major expansion of IPS to ensure thousands of people with serious mental health difficulties who want to work, find employment. The scheme has since been rolled out across the country and in 2020/21 over 14,500 people were able to access IPS services.

To help ramp up these services, we launched IPS Grow in partnership with Social Finance, a not-for-profit organisation to implement this expansion. IPS Grow have developed national standards and guidelines and provided technical support and resources to IPS service providers. They work with a range of employment specialists, mental health experts and academics to support people with severe mental illness to find or stay in employment.

The scheme is expected to expand as part of the NHS Long Term Plan – with an aim to help 55,000 people each year by 2023/24.

It has been a tough time for everyone throughout the pandemic and the effects on the economy and job-market has been felt by many. However, IPS services have continued to support clients in finding employment.

Colin – Nottinghamshire IPS

Colin is a 53-year-old male who has been in the mental health system since 2007. In February 2020, Colin’s Occupational Therapist referred him to the IPS Service at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust after he expressed interest in securing employment.

Colin met with his IPS Employment Specialist who supported him with his CV, talked his skills and interests and provided guidance on how to apply for jobs. Due to the pandemic a lot of the support was through telephone calls and email. The Employment Specialist identified a suitable role for Colin as a Bank Facilities Assistant at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – and together they applied for the role and prepared for the interview.

Colin successfully secured the position and has held this role throughout the pandemic. Reflecting back, Colin identifies the vital role work plays in his life, “Losing my job, I felt like it had lost a part of myself, like I didn’t know who I was or where I fit in society.  Working again has helped me in so many ways from simple things such as motivation, routine, structure to other things like having a reason to get up every day, drive, earning money, being independent and respecting who and what I am”.

Colin then secured work as a Bank Mass Vaccination assistant with Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to help with COVID-19 vaccines from March to July this year (2021). He has now secured a fulltime permanent position as a Health Care Assistant and continues to be supported by the IPS Team who offer day-to-day guidance.

Colin’s Employment Specialist said: “Colin’s career goal is to become a Peer Support Worker within mental health services, so he is able to help others using his own life experiences. To do this he is taking the relevant steps towards upskilling himself. Colin engages well and is a great example of how time unlimited support with IPS is enabling him to fulfil his future goals.” – Younis Hussain, Employment Specialist, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Melissa – Hull IPS

Melissa is 24 years old and before using the service, she had been unemployed for 4 months. Melissa graduated university in 2018 and has been an English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher by teaching English to Chinese students online and teaching English to Spanish students in a school and 1:1 private lessons.

In January 2020, she undertook a Digital Marketing internship in Spain but had to come home early because of mental health issues. Melissa was referred to the IPS service at Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust after receiving mental health care from the community team in June 2020.

Melissa said: “While using the service I have received weekly phone calls to check up on my job search progress and to inform me of job opportunities. During the phone calls we were able to map out a career plan which gave me a lot of hope for the future. I was also given feedback on my CV which helped me to tailor it for potential employers.

“We went through a ‘Surviving and Thriving at Work Toolkit’ which helped me to identify strategies to manage my emotional wellbeing in and outside of the workplace. It also helped me to identify things that my employer can do to help me maintain a healthy work and home life.

“I have now successfully gained employment in my desired field. I am now a Digital Marketing Assistant for a company called Women Like Me, who help women get into business. I also have better knowledge of how to approach my employer when falling ill.”

Speaking of her journey, Melissa’s Employment Specialist said: “Melissa has shown great determination to rebuild her life after becoming unwell and being hospitalised due to her mental health, supporting her with her goals of finding paid work was one of her top priorities. We would find employers together, discuss potential openings and after numerous meetings Melissa’s hard work has paid off, it has been great to see the number of opportunities Melissa has created for herself in such a short amount of time and seeing her find a really healthy work/life balance is fantastic to see.” – Rachel Forsey, IPS Team Leader, Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust.

Stephen – Bradford District IPS

Stephen is a 48-year-old man living in the City of Bradford who has been receiving support from Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust’s South and West Community Mental Health team since 2018.

Prior to his referral to the IPS employment service by his Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Stephen had been unemployed for 15 years. He always wanted to work, but his anxiety was a barrier for him as his past experiences had a negative impact on his mental health and confidence. He knew he needed in-work support to overcome this.

Once referred to the IPS employment service, Stephen met with his employment specialist, Melanie, who talked through his CV, his interests and also did a benefits calculation. From these meetings Stephen discovered he could work on a part time basis and would be supported by his employment specialist to address his anxiety and build his confidence to work full time in the future.

With his employment specialist’s support, a suitable role was identified in a local store. The role was close to where Stephen lived, was his preferable working environment and would give him the skills and knowledge to build his confidence and start a career in retail. Stephen was invited to interview and was successful in being offered the position.

Stephen started working as a key worker in October 2020 during lockdown. Stephen and his employment specialist, Melanie, put a plan in place to meet on a weekly basis for some additional one-to-one support to help address his anxieties.

Stephen said: “As well as supporting me in work Mel also provided social support during the lockdown and we would meet outside for walks and take out coffee when government guidelines permitted, and I was able to talk to her not only about work but also my personal circumstances.

“I am now more settled in work and my anxiety has lowered considerably.  I have also learnt new skills within the store such as working on the tills, merchandising and stock rotation.  I hope to move onto a retail assistant position in the future. I feel a lot more confident in myself and working has given me a sense of purpose. I also feel very lucky to have obtained a job during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Melissa, Colin and Stephen are three examples of the thousands of people with SMI who have been supported by IPS teams across the country. These three individuals have secured employment during the pandemic, a time of economic uncertainty for many.

IPS teams continue to support individuals to secure and retain employment across the country. To find out more about IPS or where your local IPS employment service is, please visit the IPS Grow website.