On The Ground: Tomorrow's People

Sarah Speight

Scheme: Employment advice at a GP practice

Funding: Approximately £15,300 per year to have a presence at the practice. The surgery provides a room and telephone access.

This grant is provided by an umbrella scheme, 'Getting London Working', which is funded by the European Social Fund and the Single Regeneration Budget

Objectives: To help patients come off sickness benefits and get back into work

There are 2.7 million people claiming incapacity benefits in the UK, costing the state more than £6bn a year. Many people who receive Incapacity Benefit and Disability Allowance are willing and able to work, but because of difficulties arising from their health problems, such as low self-esteem or outdated skills, they need additional help getting back into sustainable employment.

In an attempt to meet this need, employment charity Tomorrow's People is offering a 'one-stop-shop' for health and welfare advice at the James Wigg doctor's surgery in Kentish Town, North London.

The aim of the project is to reduce the number of 'sick notes' signed for patients who may benefit from receiving welfare or employment advice and assistance.

Faruk Noor, employment adviser at the surgery, sees patients who suffer from a wide range of conditions, including depression, mild circulatory disorders, back pain and stress.

Noor sees an average of five patients once a week in a consulting room at the practice, and also attends the surgery's team meetings.

Julie Sexton, programme manager at Tomorrow's People, described the approach taken by advisers: "What is crucial is that we have the time to talk about any barriers to work.

"There are no quick fixes - everything we do is long term. We begin with confidence building and retraining, if necessary, as well as updating CVs and interview techniques."

So far, nearly 200 patients have seen Noor, and of those registered, 100 per cent have returned to employment or are back in education or training.

On average, 75 per cent are still in work 12 months on.

The practice estimates that the charity's presence has helped cut GP consultations by an average of five per patient, saving the surgery thousands of pounds.

Dr Rory Macgregor, a partner at the practice, said: "Having an employment adviser on-site working as part of the primary-care team is a unique way of helping people to regain their confidence and re-enter the workplace.

"It has not only saved us time and money, it has changed many patients' lives, freeing them from being stuck in the cycle of doctors' consultations, and having no real direction."

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