EAP crisis | Major mental health service provider to undergo investigation for allegedly putting vulnerable workers at risk

Major mental health service provider to undergo investigation for allegedly putting vulnerable workers at risk

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has announced an investigation into one of the UK's largest providers of workplace mental health services, Health Assured, following allegations of improper handling of calls from vulnerable individuals.

BBC File on 4 uncovered disturbing claims, including instances where callers expressing suicidal thoughts were allegedly advised to "go on a date" with their partners instead of receiving appropriate support.

Health Assured, however, denies these allegations.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), designed to aid employees in dealing with personal issues impacting their work performance and wellbeing, are now under greater scrutiny due to the case.

According to the UK Employee Assistance Programme Association, approximately three-quarters of the UK working population have access to EAPs through their employers, making them a crucial resource for many.

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Health Assured, which supports around 13million workers in the UK and Ireland, provides services to various institutions including NHS trusts, universities, and police forces.

However, allegations from both current and former employees suggest a concerning picture of low morale, high staff turnover and struggles to meet demand.

An anonymous counsellor at Health Assured revealed to the BBC that limitations on referrals for structured counselling due to company targets was a normal occurance.

She expressed concerns about the pressure to limit referrals, stating that it hindered their ability to provide necessary support.

Internal communications obtained by the BBC indicate the existence of weekly targets for call handling and referral rates, potentially conflicting with Health Assured's denial of such targets.

The BACP has vowed to investigate these allegations thoroughly and take appropriate action if unethical behaviour or poor practices are found, which could include imposing conditions on Health Assured's membership or even withdrawing it altogether.

Health Assured maintains that it “upholds the highest standards of care and employee wellbeing and undergoes annual audits as part of its BACP accreditation”.

The company attributes the reported pressures to the increased demand on mental health services during and after the pandemic.

Data from ONS supports the notion that post-COVID, wellbeing has slumped among the working population.

Overall, the annual personal wellbeing figures showed a statistically significant fall in all measures in England, and an overall UK fall in scores people gave when asked “How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”, “How happy did you feel yesterday?” and “To what extent do you feel that the things that you do in your life are worthwhile?”.

Anxiety levels have risen overall and more than a quarter of women (27%) reported high levels of anxiety compared with one in five men. The last time the ONS reported this in 2016, the figure for women was 22%.

Health Assured's CEO, Bertrand Stern-Gillet, responds to claims

In a statement, Bertrand Stern-Gillet, CEO of Health Assured said the company 'fully refutes the allegations that have been made by the BBC'.

"We issued a full and thorough written response to all questions posed to us, making this explicitly clear, and it is good to see that reflected in the coverage.

“We wrote proactively to the BACP last week to advise them of this upcoming coverage, and to advise the BACP of our detailed responses to the BBC’s questions. We have worked closely with the BACP in a number of areas over the years, and we look forward to answering any questions they may have for us following this article. We follow all correct protocols and adhere fully to all industry standards and welcome any investigation into our service," Stern-Gillet noted. 

“Health Assured’s ultimate focus is on quality and client experience, and the testimony we hear from clients and service users every day speaks to the clinical excellence of our service. We hold ourselves to the highest standard with people at the heart of everything we do – both in the care we provide as well as ensuring the health and wellbeing of our employees. We are proud to be an industry leading provider of EAP services. Our 97% client retention rate, reviews, and accreditations are testimony to this,” the CEO added. 

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