The Government will treble the number of employment advisers in GP surgeries and pilot a new £8m advice and support service for smaller businesses as part of a new approach to help people with stress and other mental health conditions find and keep work, Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain and Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced this week.

The measures underpin the development of the first national strategy for mental health and work, led by the National Director for Health and Work, Dame Carol Black.

Peter Hain said: "People suffering from mental health conditions often experience problems in finding and keeping work, and mental ill-health is now the biggest single cause of both absence from work and incapacity benefit claims.

"In fact, around 40 per cent of people currently receiving incapacity benefits are doing so because of mental ill-health.

"Yet we know that being in work is usually good for people with all types of mental health problems, whereas being out of work can lead to an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression and increased use of medication. Work doesnt have to be part of the problem, it can be part of the treatment too.

"So there is a clear need to support people with mental health conditions to overcome or manage their problems, helping them to find or remain in work."

Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health, said:

"Each year many people are unnecessarily forced to give up their jobs because of mental health problems, which is a terrible waste of talent for British business and a great loss to the individual. This package is designed to help people keep well and in work, which will ultimately save businesses huge amounts in sick leave and contribute to a better quality of life for those who may have otherwise had to give up work."

Elements of the package include:

  • Development of a National Strategy for Mental Health and Work, to ensure a coordinated response across government to the challenges faced by people of working age with mental health conditions and improve their employment chances. The strategy will be overseen by a group of business, medical, academic and stakeholder representatives, including Lord Richard Layard, and chaired by the National Director for Health and Work, Dame Carol Black.
  • An advice and support service for employers, especially smaller businesses, will be piloted to help them to manage and support people with mental health conditions to remain in or return to work. We will explore the possibility of this service also providing support and advice for GPs as part of efforts to more closely align employment and healthcare services.
  • Expansion of the pilots placing Jobcentre Plus advisers in GP surgeries, to treble the capacity. The enlarged pilots will have a particular focus on supporting people with mental health conditions and will be supported by a roll-out of our educational programme for GPs on health and work issues, focusing specifically on mental health and employment.
  • Wherever possible, the Pathways to Work and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programmes will be linked up as they are rolled out across the country, allowing customers to take up the full range of support available and experience their back to work and healthcare support.
  • Alongside this, a mental health forum will bring together all those involved in delivering Pathways to Work support, to share evidence and experiences in relation to support for people with mental health conditions.
  • * Changes to the process for issuing medical certificates, currently being developed with employers, healthcare professionals and their representative bodies will reflect the emphasis on "capacity" rather than "incapacity" and will make it easier for GPs to provide more helpful advice to patients and their employers about their fitness for work, especially for those with mental health conditions.

According to DWP figures there are approximately 1 million people claiming incapacity benefits because of a mental health problem - more than the total number claiming Job Seekers Allowance!

According to DWP figures, 30% of GP's time is apparently taken up with mental health issues. The detailed proposals on the employer advisory service and advisers in GP surgeries pilots are being developed and it is anticipated they will commence during the second half of 2008.

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