A group of Approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) are set to strike over a council’s insistence that they take on some night shifts in addition to daily case work.
AMHPs employed by Brighton and Hove city council will stop providing out-of-hours support for at least six weeks unless the local authority withdraws threats to dismiss staff that refuse to provide overnight cover, which used to be optional, the council’s Unison branch said.
The strike action is due to begin on Friday. Talks between union leaders and the council will start tomorrow in a last-ditch bid to settle the dispute.
AMHPs are the group of specially trained professionals, mostly social workers, responsible for coordinating Mental Health Act assessments.
The planned strike is the latest development in a long-running dispute between the council and the union over the introduction of a compulsory night shift rota for AMHPs in late 2014. Previously AMHPs at the local authority had been allowed to voluntarily opt in to provide overnight cover.
All local authorities have a statutory duty under the Mental Health Act Code of Practice to provide a 24-hour AMHP service that can respond to patients’ needs.
Unison said that the voluntary night rota “had successfully been in place for years” and claimed that moves to force AMHPs to work both day and night shifts could put staff and service users at risk.
“It is quite possible that an AMHP will work all day, be called out at night for several hours, and have appointments the following morning and afternoon,” the union said.
However, a council spokeswoman said that recent staffing changes had left a few staff working a “disproportionate” number of night shifts under the voluntary rota system.
“In order to ensure that we continue to run a safe and timely service, we now feel the services need to be on a more formal basis and not reliant on volunteers. As a result, we have begun a period of consultation with staff,” the spokeswoman said.
Previous strike action planned for spring was suspended after the council agreed to talks over potential alternatives to the compulsory rota. Unison suggested that new staff could be appointed onto contracts requiring them to work on an on-call rota or a joint rota with a neighbouring local authority could be set up to boost AMHP out-of-hours capacity.
However, the union claims that it received no communication from the local authority as to the outcome of its proposals and, in mid-July, the council wrote to six Unison members threatening them with disciplinary action if they did not attend a rota induction meeting.
A meeting between Unison and AMHPs was held last Monday. The union was instructed to inform the council that strike action would resume and asked to put forward another proposed alternative to the compulsory rota for the local authority’s consideration.
‘An essential service’
Alex Knutsen, secretary of the Unison branch at Brighton and Hove, said: “Unison put forward numerous alternatives to cover this essential service in a manner that does not place our dedicated members at risk, and more so, the people they assist.
“With a new proposals from the branch there is some hope that a resolution can be reached, but the first requirement will be that the threat of dismissal is withdrawn, in writing – if it is, we can resume talks and maybe avoid further action.”
Denise D’Souza, the council’s director of adult services, said: “We are looking forward to meeting Unison this week to hear their proposals to assist us in having a robust 24-hour approved mental health professional service across the city.
“We have a statutory duty to provide a responsive and sustainable service that ensures residents in need of an urgent assessment under the Mental Health Act receive one in a timely way throughout the day or night.”