Individual placement and support (IPS) has been repeatedly demonstrated to be the most effective form of mental health vocational rehabilitation. Its no-discharge policy plus fixed caseloads, however, makes it expensive to provide.
To test whether introducing a time limit for IPS would significantly alter its clinical effectiveness and consequently its potential cost-effectiveness.
Referrals to an IPS service were randomly allocated to either standard IPS or to time-limited IPS (IPS-LITE). IPS-LITE participants were referred back to their mental health teams if still unemployed at 9 months or after 4 months employment support. The primary outcome at 18 months was working for 1 day. Secondary outcomes comprised other vocational measures plus clinical and social functioning. The differential rates of discharge were used to calculate a notional increased capacity and to model potential rates and costs of employment.
A total of 123 patients were randomised and data were collected on 120 patients at 18 months. The two groups (IPS-LITE = 62 and IPS = 61) were well matched at baseline. Rates of employment were equal at 18 months (IPS-LITE = 24 (41%) and IPS = 27 (46%)) at which time 57 (97%) had been discharged from the IPS-LITE service and 16 (28%) from IPS. Only 11 patients (4 IPS-LITE and 7 IPS) obtained their first employment after 9 months. There were no significant differences in any other outcomes. IPS-LITE discharges generated a potential capacity increase of 46.5% compared to 12.7% in IPS which would translate into 35.8 returns to work in IPS-LITE compared to 30.6 in IPS over an 18-month period if the rates remained constant.
IPS-LITE is equally effective to IPS and only minimal extra employment is gained by persisting beyond 9 months. If released capacity is utilised with similar outcomes, IPS-LITE results in an increase by 17% in numbers gaining employment within 18 months compared to IPS and will increase with prolonged follow-up. IPS-LITE may be more cost-effective and should be actively considered as an alternative within public services.
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