A new local occupational health service has resulted from a project that focused on incapacity benefit claimants.

Barriers to Employment is a partnership project in Doncaster that supports incapacity benefit claimants to improve their health and return to work.

The project is based on a study funded by the single regeneration budget under which, in 2004, researchers talked to statutory and voluntary organisations as well as benefit claimants. The subsequent report outlined six stages on the 'claimant's journey' and highlighted the difficulties they face getting back into employment after a period of incapacity.

The stages identified on this journey were grouped under the following headings:

  • in work;
  • illness strikes;
  • claim processing;
  • health/emotional support;
  • job readiness;
  • support;
  • return to work/employer support.

The report's recommendations - 39 in total - addressed each of these stages. They deal not only with supporting people back to work but also with helping them to stay there.

'We all set out hoping to identify gaps in provision and re-engineer the services already provided,' says Arnold Drakeley, head of strategic partnerships at Doncaster Primary Care Trust.

'Since then a number of initiatives have come along that require a more co-ordinated whole-system approach. Barriers energises people, helps us pull everything together and avoids replication.'

The project is overseen by the Barriers to Employment group, a task group of the Doncaster Economic Partnership.

Doncaster PCT, the strategic health authority and local acute trust, Doncaster council, Job Centre Plus and several other partnership forums, employers and voluntary groups are involved in the programme.

Tailored support

Responses to the recommendations run independently and are provided or led by the relevant partner.

The PCT leads on or participates in elements such as the Department of Work and Pensions-commissioned condition management programme, itself part of the bigger Pathways to Work scheme. The programme offers tailored support for incapacity benefit claimants, which includes modules on understanding and managing conditions, confidence-building and health awareness.

'One of the biggest gaps to be plugged was occupational services,' says Mr Drakeley. 'The local economy has lots of small and medium-sized employers with no occupational health provision of their own. Single neighbourhood renewal funding has helped to establish a new service for employers and employees across Doncaster.'

The trust is also one of two demonstration sites for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies. This has been incorporated in the project to support people of working age with mild to moderate mental health problems.