The Individual Placement and Support (IPS) service at Oxford Health is leading the way with its quick response to the challenges of the pandemic, helping dozens of people into work and dealing with double the volume of referrals.

And its extraordinary efforts were recently acknowledged with the NHS England recognition award.

The IPS service launched last year in partnership with Restore, one of the key organisations in the award-winning Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership.

It helps unemployed adults aged over 18 in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, who are under the care of our adult mental health teams or early intervention service, to get back into meaningful paid work.

A rewarding job is seen to be an important part of people’s mental health recovery journey, so employment specialists work closely with mental health clinicians so that service users can achieve employment goals.

But as the pandemic unfolded, many goals, and hopes, were dashed. Those already in jobs were having to manage their mental health, and employers needed additional support from the Oxford Health specialist team to look after staff health and wellbeing.

Furthermore, the jobs available in the lockdown, for example those in retail, were not in suitable working environments that would meet client’s individual preferences.

The IPS team responded quickly and prepared a ‘Retention and Employer Offer’ which it delivered to all Oxford Health community adult mental health teams as well as early intervention services across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Shelley Monaghan, the IPS Team Leader who based at Warneford Hospital in Oxford said: “Supporting our existing clients has been paramount. Patients have been dealing with a number of new work issues like furlough, working from home and returning to work after absence.”

Shelley and the team maintained a full employment service, even when they moved to working from home. The focus was still fully on individual client preferences and ensuring placements were in suitable environments.

“We have continued to support those seeking work and put together resources to support them with meaningful tasks they can do from home, like online courses and CV preparation.”

“We also put together a wealth of support material for employers. This includes wellbeing plans, guidance for working from home as well as managing staff returning to work after furlough.”

Shelley and the team attended a regional NHS England IPS Celebration event. They were delighted when Oxford Health received a recognition and achievement award.

Warren Trunchion, IPS Lead South East said: “The team took a proactive approach and was led by Shelley in quickly responding to demand and adapting their approach and offer.”

He went on: “The team have excelled at engaging with employers and diversified their offer to support general mental health and wellbeing in their local business community.”

Between April and June, the IPS service supported 49 clients, including getting 17 people into a new role. Referrals into the service during the same period doubled to 147.

Shelley, who has been invited as a speaker to the IPS Expert Forum also received an individual award for providing proactive support for staff and clients.

IPS employment specialist Michelle Marfleet, who nominated Shelley for an award, said: “She has consistently been a supportive, knowledgeable and approachable manager, before and during the COVID restrictions.”

Rebecca Kelly, associate director of Allied Health Professionals at Oxford Health said: “Our IPS team has provided vital support during this very uncertain time and its fantastic that this has been recognised by NHS England.”

“Shelley has been inspiring. Supporting her team to proactively develop online service developments and respond swiftly to the emerging need to support clients with retention issues because it was, and is, the right thing to do.”