Plans published by the Scottish executive to radically change
mental health legislation will enhance the role of social work
qualified mental health officers in Scotland, in contrast to plans
for their English and Welsh counterparts.
‘Renewing Mental Health Law’, published at the end of October
and likely to be law in Scotland by early next year, will give key
roles for social work qualified mental health officers in
compulsory treatment in the community, in mental health tribunals
and in advocacy services, as well as maintaining their current
The plans contrast starkly with the mental health white paper
published in December last year for England and Wales, under which
sectioning orders will be made by two doctors and “another suitably
trained mental health professional”, who may not be a social
worker. Under current legislation, two doctors must recommend
detention, but it is the job of the approved social worker to
assess the client socially and, if appropriate, apply to
compulsorily admit someone to hospital.
Ruth Stark, Scottish policy officer for the British Association
of Social Workers, said the proposals for Scotland would give
mental health officers and social work generally a central role in
what used to be seen as primarily medical tasks.
“The Scottish executive is demonstrating that social work skills
are valued – a factor not evident throughout the government
of the UK,” she said.
“In Scotland we will be recruiting more mental health officers,
emphasising the importance of social work training and skills. Yet
elsewhere in the UK, social work appears to be running the risk of
being demoted. Social work is a UK recognised qualification yet we
are in danger of ending up with two grades of social worker –
the higher in Scotland and the lower in England.”