Emerging insights into Vocational Rehabilitation

DATE / TIME 15/06/2021
10:00 am - 3:00 pm


Join us for an exciting event exploring some of the interesting vocational rehabilitation-related research and development taking place and the learning and implications for our own practice.

We have a great line up of sessions:

  • The Knowledge Transfer Partnership between the University of Huddersfield and Swiss Re looking at individual-focused return to work plans
  • Enabling Return to Work for Key Workers recovering from Covid-19
  • The factors that influence healthcare professionals return to work recommendations in Low Back Pain
  • Volunteering during unemployment and does voluntary work lead to paid work?
  • Psychological Factors Affecting Return to Work Decision-Making Following Traumatic Physical Injury

The event will be taking place online and you can download a programme here.

All attendees will receive a CPD certificate.

Please register here

Places are just £25 for VRA members and £35 for non-members.

We also provided a number of our student members with free places – this opportunity is now closed.


Our thanks to Swiss Re for generously sponsoring this event allowing us to keep attendee costs to a minimum.

As a reinsurer with a large disability insurance portfolio, Swiss Re strongly promotes the vocational rehabilitation industry and profession. Swiss Re has actively embraced the substantial evidence highlighting the benefits of early, collaborative and work-focused intervention using a biopsychosocial approach and promote the adoption of a holistic approach to the management of income protection claims.


Find out more about our sessions and speakers

Knowledge Transfer Partnership Research

This project is a knowledge transfer partnership programme between the University of Huddersfield and Swiss Re. The aim is to use research from the university to enhance Swiss Re’s income protection policy. This will be achieved by developing and implementing an individual-focused return to work (RTW) support plan in the early stages of absence to maximise recovery and reduce work loss due to ill health. We believe that an early self-managed RTW support package offered as part of an enhanced income protection insurance product for insured workers has the potential to improve recovery timeframe, prevent long-term sickness absence and facilitate job retention. We hope that this RTW package will help insured individuals to be an active participant in their recovery journey, as well as empower them with the right resources to negotiate good work that is good for their health.

Stephanie McCahon trained as an occupational therapist and has performed many rehabilitation roles in Australia and the UK. She joined Swiss Re’s life and health claims team in 2008. Her current role is Claims Medical Manager, leading a team of allied health professionals who work with Swiss Re’s insurer clients to apply clinical best practice to best practice disability claims management. Her team’s broad overview of and positive influence on the UK insurance rehabilitation market, and commitment to championing the cause of rehabilitation, delivering training, and conducting research was acknowledged in 2017 with the Insurer Contribution of the Year award at Post Magazine’s Rehabilitation First Awards.

Stephanie’s passion and commitment, and leading role in driving change in the industry, was recognised by her being awarded Claims Professional of the Year at the Women in Insurance Awards in 2020.  She and her team have worked hard to be at the forefront of service development, research and training in the area of claims rehabilitation, resulting in the following further industry recognition:

  • Finalist, Training award, Insurance Post 2018 Claims Awards;
  • Winner, Rehabilitation Initiative of the Year – Provider award, Post Magazine 2016 Rehabilitation First Awards;
  • Winner, Research award, Post Magazine 2015 Rehabilitation First Awards.

Stephanie is committed to ensuring her team are industry leaders in championing early intervention and holistic health management and is proud that this goal is clearly reflected in Swiss Re’s broader company mission: to make the world more resilient.

Dr. Abasiama Etuknwa (Sema) is currently the Research Project Coordinator (KTP Associate) for the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between University of Huddersfield and Swiss Re. She holds a PhD in Business and Management. Her research interests are within the areas of work, health and disability. She is particularly interested in determining practical solutions to reducing work-related risk to health, sickness absence and helping employees on sick leave return to work sustainably.

Enabling Return to Work for Key Workers recovering from Covid-19: Survey of Work-Relevant Experiences and Suitable Workplace Accommodations

Emerging findings will be reported of an online survey of 145 workers recovering from Covid-19. This collected quantitative and qualitative data on, return to work experiences, obstacles anticipated or encountered, and suggested workplace accommodation. Participants were mainly from health/social care (50%), or educational settings (14%). Nearly 70% described themselves as key workers. Just over 90% indicated that they had experienced at least some post-COVID symptoms. Only 15% had managed a full return to work.  Difficulties in resuming work were attributed to the varied and unpredictable nature of symptoms directly affecting workability such as fatigue and cognitive difficulties. Concerns over the ability to work safely in public-facing roles were expressed. Ability to control symptoms alongside inflexible work demands emerged as a key return to work obstacles. Manager, human resource and occupational health was reported as variable. Workplace accommodations suggested by participants, and anticipated benefits for making these will be presented.

Dr Jenny Lunt possesses a Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology, is a Chartered Health Psychologist and registered practitioner with the Health Care Professions Council. She lectures behaviour change and Health Psychology at the University of Derby. She also runs her own business in behaviour change as applied to Health and Safety and is a former Principal Psychologist of the Health and Safety Executive’s research laboratory, where she led behaviour change and wellbeing at work capability. Her research interests are in managing chronic health conditions in the workplace, recovery while working, applying the biopsychosocial approach to occupational health management and healthy organisational cultures. She has conducted research, training and consultancy at national and international levels on these topics and speaks at national and international conferences.

What factors influence healthcare professionals’ return to work recommendations in Low Back Pain?

The PREDICTOR Survey targeted occupational health (OH) physicians, OH nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists who make return to work recommendations in chronic low back pain (LBP).

The primary aim of this research was to identify predictive factors which influence return to work (RTW) recommendations, in chronic (LBP, among health care professionals associated with occupational health (HCPs-OH). The secondary objective was to identify professional characteristics, among HCPs-OH, which might guide further research to improve the quality of care for chronic LBP and work recommendations.

This presentation will discuss the results of this study and how these results provide food for thought among healthcare professionals working within occupational health and vocational rehabilitation to improve the clinical management of LBP in patients returning to work.

Paul Scallan works as a Clinical Lead Occupational Health Physiotherapist for IPRS Health, and also a committee member for the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE).

After graduating from UCD, Ireland, he worked in a variety of settings including NHS outpatients and community, sports physiotherapy, and private practice before working on corporate health with IPRS Health. It was the challenges involved within occupational health where Paul grew his passion in improving MSK health and well-being in the workplace. In 2017, Paul completed post-graduate training in occupational health, where he is an accredited Occupational Health Physiotherapist (Reg. M. ACPOHE).

Paul has a special interest in low back pain and supporting employees to return to work after periods of absence. This led to him to enroll with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in 2019, where he recently submitted his Master of Research in the area of low back pain and work.

Volunteering during unemployment: does voluntary work lead to paid work?

Volunteering during unemployment is a stepping stone to paid work – that has been the assumption behind several UK government policy initiatives encouraging unemployed people to get volunteering.

This presentation will question the extent to which empirical evidence supports this assumption. Firstly, drawing on the employability literature, I will argue that enhanced employability (i.e. skills and attitudes) does not automatically translate into (re-) employment, as it represents only the supply side of the labour market. Therefore, a clear distinction should be made between the effects of volunteering on employability and securing paid work as a result. Secondly, I will evaluate the empirical evidence currently available in the literature on volunteering and employability.  I will conclude that, according to a relatively small number of studies, volunteering during unemployment can indeed enhance employability but it has a limited, negative or negligible effect on the prospects of the majority of unemployed people finding a new job. Moreover, some studies indicate that the effects of volunteering might vary by frequency of volunteering, age, and reasons for unemployment. Other studies suggest that volunteering can be a productive alternative for individuals who cannot secure employment because of various barriers in labour market, for example people with mental health problems or disabilities.

Dr. Daiga Kamerade is a Reader in Work and Wellbeing and the Lead of Connected Lives and Diverse Realities (CLDR) research group at University of Salford. She has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is a co-editor for the Voluntary Sector Review journal. Her research focuses on paid, unpaid and voluntary work, wellbeing, and mental health.

Psychological Factors Affecting Return to Work Decision-Making Following Traumatic Physical Injury: preliminary findings from qualitative interviews and focus groups with trauma survivors

Background: Following traumatic physical injury there may be barriers to returning to work, including mental health issues. There is evidence of links between traumatic physical injury and negative mental health outcomes (depression, anxiety, PTSD) but little consideration of the mechanisms underlying these outcomes.

Results: All participants were either working or studying prior to their injury and wanted to return to this occupation. Key findings were as follows:

  1. Injury as a health threat was evaluated by injury survivors in terms of changes to functional capacity. This was usually appraised in relation to ability to participate in work, social connection and family roles. In terms of impact of injury on work, participants talked most about invisible impacts such as fatigue, loss of concentration or additional burden on commuting.
  2. Reduced social connection through isolation (during convalescence) was spoken about in terms of the negative impact on mental health.
  3. The value of work was spoken about in terms of a) having a sense of purpose and b) sense of connection. (Interestingly, a separate study of trauma survivor priorities for intervention outcomes within the ROWTATE programme of study supporting the clinical trial also identified Sense of Purpose as a priority. This study consulted pre-dominantly TBI survivors, so a majority of participants with injuries which could be considered ‘life-changing’.)
  4. Participants spoke about the support received from work which was valued. This included: adjustments made, a team approach to coping with the need for adjustments, a sense of understanding of the impact of injury from colleagues.
  5. Participants spoke about the stigma they perceived regarding exclusion from a valued work identity through changed functional capacities.

Kay Bridger is half way through her PhD investigating psychological responses to traumatic physical injury in relation to return to work.

The PhD is jointly funded by the Centre for Public and Psychosocial Health, Nottingham Trent University School of Psychology and the Applied Research Collaboration, East Midlands.

Kay gained an MSc conversion in Psychology from Nottingham Trent University in 2018 after twenty years of working in other fields (University outreach, academic publishing, TEFL). Afterwards, she worked as a Research Assistant in the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, supporting the development of a vocational rehabilitation intervention (ROWTATE: Return to Work After Traumatic Injury). In 2019 Kay gained PhD funding to consider the psychological factors affecting return to work following traumatic injury. Kay is supervised by staff at both University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University.

The event will be taking place online and you can download a programme here.

Please register here

Places are just £25 for VRA members and £35 for non-members.