Scrapping social worker integration deal will save £1m and improve service, says council

Councillors in Somerset approve proposals to withdraw mental health social workers from Somerset Partnership NHS Trust

Photo: Time to Change
Photo: Time to Change

Mental health social workers in Somerset will be withdrawn from integrated NHS teams and returned to local authority control.

Last week councillors agreed to terminate a deal that has seen Somerset County Council’s social workers integrated with Somerset Partnership NHS trust since 1999. The move, which will take effect from April 1, will impact 60 staff.

A report submitted to the council’s cabinet earlier this month said the changes would save up to £1m a year and improve compliance with the Care Act 2014.

“This will in part be through increasing the number of individuals who can access support from the mental health social work service. At present there is a risk that people can only access specialist support if they meet the integrated teams’ eligibility which is set using a health based criteria,” the report said.

“As a result if someone has low health needs, but high social care needs in relation to their mental health they are currently not able to access the service. In addition to addressing this, the proposal will assist in standardising implementation of the Care Act and relevant duties across all adult social care teams.”

Impact of the changes

The integrated mental health teams currently provide social care support to around 784 people. A large number of service users may see their care coordinator change as a result of the changes, the report said.

The news comes weeks after a study found integration arrangements for mental health social workers were under “unprecedented” pressure nationally. Researchers warned the pressure to deliver the Care Act within tightening budgets meant councils were seeking greater control over how social workers in health teams were being used.

Somerset’s overhaul will see the council’s social workers moved back to local authority offices. There will be no redundancies.

The cabinet report identified a series of risks linked to the move. These included difficulties caused to service users by re-allocation of care coordinators and the impact on staff morale. Somerset Partnership NHS Trust also raised concerns that the withdrawal of social workers could make it harder to maintain the level of patient care currently provided.

New ways of working

The council stressed its commitment to maintaining the level of social care support offered and said a new service model designed with staff and service user input would mitigate risks involved with the changes. The report said the council and NHS trust would also work together to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

A spokesman for the council said: “Between the County Council and Somerset Partnership, the full range of needs will continue to be supported.

“This decision is about transforming the way we do things, making sure our social work staff are doing the things the County Council needs them to do, and we will achieve this working closely with the CCG, Somerset Partnership and staff.

“To comply with the new Care Act we have to be more focussed on meeting our statutory responsibilities such as addressing the early signs of mental health problems and ensuring greater emphasis is placed on employment and housing.

“These proposals would enable us to ensure that mental health staff are fully included the Council’s new ways of work and would enable greater emphasis on prevention, greater professional support and more direct supervision.”

The council’s Unison branch told Community Care it would follow the changes closely and make sure staff are consulted.

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