Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has been delivering IPS for 12 years. We recently spoke with Vicky Harris (Operations Manager), and Zoe Watkins, (Service Manager) at Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to reflect on their experience of running an IPS service and how things have changed during the expansion. 

Black Country Healthcare has delivered employment services for about 19 years, they have done several projects in that time: and been delivering IPS for 12 years. IPS is regarded as one of the core services within their organisation, so we were keen to speak with them to hear their experience of growing a small team of 6 in 2018 to now 33. 

Q – How long have you been in your role? 

Vicky: I have been in my role since October 2002. My role and job title has changed during this time, I wasn’t specifically working in IPS when I joined. 

Zoe: I have been in the IPS Service Manager role for less than six months. Before that, I was the Team Lead for the Wolverhampton area. Prior to that I have over 15 years’ experience within recruitment consultancy but predominantly within DWP welfare to work contracts. 

Q – Black Country Healthcare NHS FT was one of the first IPS services to mobilise in the NHS. Can you describe your early experiences of the IPS expansion? 

Zoe: It was a really exciting time, but at the same time, it was incredibly challenging because you weren’t always met with the same enthusiasm that you had. 

It took some time to build key relationships with clinicians. It took a lot of time and tenacity. It was about all of us as individuals constantly showcasing what we stood for and why we were here. It’s so important that everyone came on board. Slowly that was how we really started to integrate ourselves. And we’ve got some fantastic contacts in each of the teams. 

Q – What are the main challenges that you have faced in your role over the past years? 

Zoe: There have been a few challenges over the last three years because we’ve had the merging of our trusts change. That obviously led to a change of everything from your laptop, your network, or Wi-Fi, the policies are all being merged and ratified, and you then had redeployment throughout Covid.  

Despite it being a challenging time, we saw a lot of positive change, we got to meet a lot of our community mental health colleagues that maybe we’ve not had the opportunity to meet before.  

We moved from Oasis over to Rio in 2019, so that was quite a big change for the team because we have had to relearn the new systems. 

Q – What would you say has changed over the past four years? 

Vicky: The transformation of the relationships across the service has changed. We’ve always had a good reputation, and really good relationships internally. It’s never been frightening to drop an email or let people know how things are going. We’ve got a very good relationship with our current chief executive.  

We enter meetings and discussions as equal partners at the table. It really is a collaborative approach. We work together if they suggest things, we’ll see what we can implement. 

We’re here and we’re increasing our footprint, we’re very involved in the community. We’re looking at new developments from next year, new investment. We’re able to really look at where the gaps are and where we see the need for people. We’ve got a really good resource and infrastructure within our community mental health team focus. 

Zoe: I completely agree. The biggest cultural change has been the transformation. Rather than us having to ask to be invited to certain meetings, we are now considered as part of that discussion, we are automatically invited. 

Q – What do you enjoy the most about your role? 

Vicky: I love the diversity and the creativity. I get a lot of autonomy and networking opportunities too. It’s rewarding knowing that when we deliver, we make a difference. 

Q – What are your hopes for Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust over the next five years? 

Vicky: I want us to carry on expanding and diversifying. If we can spot gaps in terms of provision, it would be good to be to react and work out what we can do to fix the issue. 

We have focused our work on people supporting people from ethnic minority communities, and I think that is something that we need to get right over the next few years.  

Q – What advice would you give to new IPS services? 

Vicky: Make sure you form strong relationships with your clinical colleagues. I think that there is a key element of this role that’s about relationship management. It’s important to have good relationships with all the key stakeholders, whether it is commissioners, senior members or the executives within the organisation. 

Zoe: Focus first and foremost on the quality and the service that you are providing service users, and everything else will follow.  

We have a saying within our teams, which is do what you say you’re going to do, and we all live and breathe that. That is a really important model for us, it is in all of our inductions and the daily conversations that we have.  

Vicky: One of the biggest things that we look for is integrity. If you are going to promise to do something, do it. Following up your commitments and promises to people with integrity is important, it means so much to people. 

Integrity is not only beneficial to services, but it is also beneficial to individuals. Vicky and Zoe share this view, that we move our services forward by fostering a positive workplace culture that is built on trust and respect towards our colleagues and clients. 

Please click here to find out more about Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the incredible work they do to support people with mental health issues back into work.