The NHS should directly employ or fund more social workers to ensure the benefits of integrated working are fully recognised, the chief social worker for adults has said.
Lyn Romeo said the improvements integration intends to deliver will “remain no more than an aspiration” until social work has a greater profile in the health service.
Romeo made her comments in her second annual report, which was published last week.
The report said a stronger social work component in NHS services would also support the Care Act’s aspiration of more personalised care.
Romeo said this strengthening of health service social work should be achieved by “a greater pooling of funding and incentives for primary care practices and NHS trusts to directly fund or employ social workers”.
Better balance needed
She told Community Care that the NHS has a tendency to see the employment of social workers as a local authority responsibility, but social work should be seen as a profession and practice in its own right.
“Social workers have a lot more to offer than just assessing need and putting care and support plans in place – they can be part of a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach,” she said.
“Some of the health roles, such as counselling, care navigation, and connecting individuals to resources and communities, are all things that social workers are well-equipped and trained to do. They understand psychological, emotional, and social issues, and the ways in which these elements impact on a person’s ill health.”
Romeo added that she wanted to see a “much better balance” between the use of medical and social approaches to promoting health and wellbeing.
New model needs time
Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “The role of social workers and social care is important and we are moving in a direction that underlines this.
“The introduction of the Better Care Fund, with its aim of making the entire health and care system the business of both NHS and council commissioners, and the new models of care envisaged in the Five Year Forward View underpin this joint commissioning of health and social care across acute, mental health and community services.
“This is further reinforced by the introduction of social care pilots intended to give greater integration of services and deliver better outcomes for people to live healthier lives.”
Cordery added that a suitable new model would, however, take time to develop, particularly given the current financial pressures on the health and care systems.
“Until there is a common assessment framework and common eligibility criteria for access to health and social care, conflict will remain built into the system and conflicts of interest in the provision and receipt of these services will remain, regardless of how these services are commissioned or managed,” she said.