Mental health tsar Louis Appleby (pictured) has been accused of trying to “stir up” trouble after encouraging social workers to break ranks with a coalition of key critics of the Mental Health Bill over a proposed extension of their role.
Appleby told a Community Care conference last week that social workers should question organisations representing the profession in the Mental Health Alliance, including the British Association of Social Workers, over why they back the alliance position that social workers should require a second opinion from a doctor before being able to renew compulsory treatment.
Currently only responsible medical officers, who have to be doctors, can renew detentions. But the government wants to replace the role with “responsible clinicians” who can come from other professions, such as social work, to give the mental health system a more social care focus. They will take the lead role in managing the treatment of patients as well as sanctioning detention renewals.
In its submission to the bill’s committee stage last month, the alliance, made up of 75 organisations, called for there to be a second opinion from a person “capable of providing the objective medical expertise required by the Human Rights Act” before a detention renewal can be sanctioned.
The issue prompted five organisations, including Unison and the Royal College of Nursing, to split from the alliance earlier this month as they backed the government’s view. But alliance chair Andy Bell said although most members would support the position outlined in its submission the alliance no longer had a definitive stance on the issue and members were free to make up their own minds.
Bell said the most important point was that the bill complied with human rights legislation.
BASW mental health lead Roger Hargreaves said he was currently consulting approved social workers but suggested it was “very likely” they would back the position that detention renewals require a second opinion from someone with medical expertise.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Andrew McCulloch said it was “reprehensible” for Appleby to try to stir things up further within the alliance following the withdrawal of the five organisations, saying he was glad social workers had stood “shoulder to shoulder” with other alliance members.