Claire Barcham explains how changes to the approved social worker role will impact on professionals
When the amended Mental Health Act 2007 comes into force on 3 November, the 25-year-old ASW (approved social worker) role will give way to the new AMHP (approved mental health professional) position. The responsibilities and tasks will largely stay the same, but who fills the position won’t – AMHPs, unlike ASWs, don’t have to be qualified social workers.
So what do ASWs think about their role coming to an end? Claire Barcham is the ASW Leads Network national co-ordinator and has been an ASW for 12 years, and she says that ASWs have had enough success that new-style AMHPs will have to adopt their approach.
“I think that ASWs have developed a huge amount of knowledge and professionalism and are now respected for the skills they bring,” says Barcham. “I think they have worked well to protect users’ rights.
“The key thing was working from a social perspective, seeing the person not just as an individual with a particular problem but as a person, and then seeing how the illness impacts on their lives. The other thing that social workers have brought is anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive ideas. They’re also expected to have a better and more thorough understanding of legislation.
“You need those skills, so anyone coming in who didn’t have training prior to AMHP training would be at a disadvantage in those areas.”
No one yet knows how many non-social workers will be interested in the role, but Barcham says she has already been approached by some community psychiatric nurses who are interested. And the workforce could be shaped in other, unexpected ways – any ASWs who were approved more than five years ago and aren’t currently approved will have to completely retrain as AMHPs.
For ASWs continuing in the role, meanwhile, regulations mean that they will now have 18 hours’ statutory annual training.
Other changes affecting the role are relatively minor, but Barcham says those that do exist should help address real problems facing ASWs at present – namely, improving protocols to make waits of up to a fortnight for police support to section someone a distant memory, which has been known to happen in some London boroughs, and to remind primary care trusts of the need to provide an adequate ambulance service for local mental health needs.
Overall, though, it’s the new kinds of staff that are going to make the real difference to the shape of the AMHP role. And as long as sufficient training takes place, Barcham says they can make a valuable contribution and bolster the flagging numbers of ASWs.
“The pool of people to draw on to train has been reduced in recent years,” says Barcham. “Equally, service users have said that they would like to be assessed by the people who know them best, so that can be brought to the role.
“But at the same time they have to bring that from a social perspective and they have to be independent – they are assessing for the local authority.”