May’s review team to advise employers on mental health tactics (Health and safety at work)

Prime minister Theresa May’s announcements last week of a suite of measures to improve mental health across the generations included a review of best practice on mental health in workplaces.

Paul Farmer CBE, chief executive of mental health charity Mind and chair of the NHS mental health taskforce, and Lord Dennis Stevenson, former chairman of banking group HBOS and a long-time campaigner for better understanding and treatment of mental illness, will lead the work.

May said: “What I am announcing are the first steps in our plan to transform the way we deal with mental illness in this country at every stage of a person’s life, not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities.”

The review will engage with businesses and the public sector to identify and promote best practice on mental health in the workplace, looking at how best to ensure employees with mental health problems can thrive at work.

It is expected to look at “trailblazer” employers, and work towards creating tools for organisations to assist with wellbeing and mental health.

Farmer (below left) and Stevenson (below right) will also make recommendations around discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of mental health.

Stevenson has spoken of experiencing a period of clinical depression in his mid-forties. After chairing HBOS at the time of the credit crunch, when it was merged with Lloyds TSB, he went on to become founding chair of MQ: Transforming Mental Health, a charity which supports research into mental health.

“One area of focus for the government is “digitally assisted therapy”, which it says has already proved successful in other countries.”

Government must now use fiscal incentives to encourage employers to pay for health, wellbeing and medical interventions and allow it to be offset in the same way as other business expensesIt now plans to speed up the delivery of a £67.7m digital mental health package, allowing anyone who is worried about stress, anxiety or other issues to go online. If needed, they can access digital therapy immediately rather than wait for a face-to-face consultation and  then treatment.

May’s announcement triggered a number of reactions. Shelley Frost, executive director of policy at IOSH, said: “We believe this announcement by the prime minister on increased employer support for mental health is a step in the right direction.

“We need better-designed and managed work through improved education, training and awareness and employers have an important role to play. IOSH is currently funding research in this area and will be pleased to share the findings with the government, to help inform its policy.”

The IOSH-funded research will include looking at the effectiveness of mental health training and the processes and barriers associated with returning to work after mental illness.

     
The British Safety Council hopes that the prime minister’s speech will open a new chapter in understanding around mental health in the workplace and will provide leadership and focus for employers.

Louise Ward, policy, standards and communications director, said: “Mental health is a complex matter with much research ongoing, but what is clear is that the workplace has a key role to play, not just as part of the problem, but also as a source of solutions and support.

“We are committed to supporting the development of learning, information, tools and processes which will assist employers in engaging with this important issue.”

The British Safety Council is shortly to launch its own initiative on improving mental health in workplaces, Mates In Mind, in conjunction with the Health in Construction Leadership Group.

At EEF, which represents manufacturers, chief executive Terry Scuoler argued that the government needs to consider fiscal incentives for employers, to help take pressure off the NHS.

He said: “Keeping people fit and healthy, while enabling a speedy return to work from absence, is essential to economic growth and improvements in productivity. However, currently we have long term absence on the increase and an under-pressure NHS which is struggling to deal with the issue.

“We need mental health support to be treated more seriously, with more resources, achievable targets, support for trade union safety reps and for all actions by employers which make people ill to be dealt with more severely.”

“Government must now use fiscal incentives to encourage employers to pay for health, wellbeing and medical interventions and allow it to be offset in the same way as other business expenses. Not only would this help take the pressure off the NHS but it would allow a speedier return to work. This would be a win-win for government, employees and employers.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, the mental health charity, said: “Mental health is everyone’s business and we need to see sustained leadership to make sure services and support improve for all of us with mental health problems. Having been neglected for decades, we need to see it made a priority for decades to come to make sure everyone with mental health problems can live the life they want to lead.”

But a statement released by campaign group Hazards said that May’s speech was “woefully inadequate” and called on the government to adopt a preventative approach to work-related stress and mental illness.

“Government policies and workplace practices are driving this huge epidemic of work related depression, anxiety and other mental ill-health,” the statement says.

“We need mental health support to be treated more seriously, with more resources, achievable targets, support for trade union safety reps and for all actions by employers which make people ill to be dealt with more severely.”

Leave a Reply