Keele University awarded funding to help people with health conditions stay in work

A research team from Keele University has been awarded £200,000 from the Government’s new Work and Health Challenge Fund, to help support people with musculoskeletal conditions to stay in work.

The innovative project, called I-SWAP, is one of 19 which will share almost £4 million of Government funding.

I-SWAP (Implementation of learning from the Study of Work And Pain) combines two key initiatives led by Keele University - the successful SWAP (Study of Work and Pain) trial, and the evaluation of NHS England’s First Contact Practitioner (FCP) model of care, which gives patients direct access to physiotherapy as an alternative to seeing a GP.

The SWAP trial successfully demonstrated that providing an intervention which delivers vocational advice to patients with musculoskeletal conditions led to an average reduction in work absence of five days per employed patient, over a four- month period.

The new project aims to test whether vocational advice for patients with musculoskeletal conditions can be implemented in First Contact Practitioner (FCP) services too.

The I-SWAP project will include an estimated 1,200 patients over 12 months, with one third currently absent from work.

Dr Gwenllian Wynne-Jones, Senior Research Fellow at Keele University who is leading the project, commented:

“The I-SWAP project will support patients in self-managing their musculoskeletal conditions and in overcoming obstacles to working, through advice, information, identification of adjustments to the working environment and joining-up services through increased communication with GPs and employers.”

The I-SWAP project will train a sample of First Contact Practitioners to better understand the relationship between health and work, the potential obstacles to returning to work, and how to identify these with the patient. These practitioners will also receive training and resources to support them in communicating with GPs and employers.

Dr Wynne-Jones added:

“We know from our previous SWAP trial that providing vocational advice is effective, that it can be delivered by physiotherapists, and that it is best provided to patients early on in their work absence. FCPs in primary care are ideally placed to provide vocational advice, as patients can be seen early, and FCPs have the expert knowledge of the musculoskeletal condition to inform the support and management of work difficulties.”