Social workers fight to retain role in mental health assessments

By Lauren Revans,

Approved social workers have launched a campaign to lobby the
government over proposed changes to the Mental Health Act 1983.

Under the white paper Reforming The Mental Health Act published
in December, decisions to begin assessment and initial treatment of
a patient under compulsory powers would be based on a preliminary
examination by two doctors and “a social worker or another suitably
trained mental health professional”.

But ASWs believe that allowing a health professional to take on
the traditional ASW role of protecting the rights of individuals
facing admission could amount to “a fundamental attack upon the
rights of the person being assessed under the act by removing the
role of independent arbiter from the process”.

Luton ASWs Paul Jewitt and Rita Ralph told Community
the proposed change – which they warn would also threaten
the holistic assessment of the patient – could reach the statute
book and be imposed on the profession uncontested unless action was
taken now to raise awareness and lobby MPs.

“In our opinion, much greater thought needs to be given to this
specific part of the proposed act, in proper consultation with the
practitioners who have to perform an often arduous and sometimes
dangerous duty on behalf of the public,” they conclude.

A spokesperson for the Mental Health Foundation agreed: “We
definitely would have concerns about this section, particularly
because it implies a movement towards a more medical model rather
than the one that actually encompasses social care as well. It is
very important that the social aspect and social support are not

In its response to the earlier green paper on the reform of the
1983 act, the MHF said the application process “should continue to
involve three professionals and the role of the ASW should be

Gil Hitchon, Mental After Care Association chief executive, also
agreed that it would be helpful to keep “a dichotomy between the
medical model and holistic approach”, but questioned the idea that
this could only be delivered by preserving the role of the ASW.

He said the critical thing was to define “suitably trained”, and
that ASWs should play a positive role in developing that

“We should be striving to bring together common criteria for
both of those models so there’s a single approach that doctors,
nurses, and social workers can use,” Hitchon said.

He added that, as social and health care moved closer together,
social workers would find it harder to claim independence from the
health side of the process.

Sue Hunt, chief executive of Worcestershire community mental
health trust, disagreed that the medical model was “gaining
ascendancy”, and said she was “not convinced” that ASWs were the
only ones capable of fulfilling the role of independent

“There are other people who – with additional training – could
be an advocate in the way an ASW is,” she said.

Fax Paul Jewitt on 01582 657501 to join the campaign

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