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‘AMHPs are working in a mental health system close to collapse’

Community Care’s fly-on-the-wall look at life as an approved mental health professional (AMHP) shows the real pressures of working in a mental health system in crisis, writes Steve Chamberlain, chair of The College of Social Work’s AMHP community of interest.
There is something about a fly-on-the-wall piece which gives that bit of extra life and description over and above survey findings, even though the latter report on a broader picture.
Perhaps the most welcome (if that is the correct term) outcome of Andy McNicoll’s reporting is that he saw firsthand the exact same issues which the national AMHP survey found were widespread across the country.
Chronic shortages of beds; admissions to distant hospitals, sometimes over 100 miles from the patient’s home; delays in completing Mental Health Act assessments and AMHPs working beyond their scheduled 9-to-5 day, sometimes well into the night.
I hesitated to use the word ‘welcome’ above, as these experiences up and down the country are anything but welcome for the AMHPs who are undertaking the work or the people receiving services. But I believe many AMHPs will indeed welcome these articles, because they show exactly what they are having to work with day in, day out.
The problems faced by the AMHPs in these articles are not because of any lack of experience or poor practice on their part. The service Andy visited could have been any one of dozens across the country.
In fact the professionals he followed are having to routinely use the full extent of their skills and experience to manage incredibly complex and fast moving situations, frequently related to resource shortages rather than the crisis being experienced by the service user.
They need to be incredibly creative in managing a diverse group of agencies, professionals, family members and members of the public.
I often tell student nurses, social workers, trainee AMHPs and other observers that the actual assessment process is the least of the AMHP’s worries in a community-based assessment. It is managing the logistics which is often by far the most challenging part of the process.
This is not intended to sound arrogant or trite, and it certainly does not minimise the traumatic nature of a Mental Health Act assessment, on both the person who is experiencing the crisis and their family and loved ones around them.
Let’s hope that the government’s current examination of mental health crisis care takes articles like these into consideration. They reinforce the clear message from the national AMHP survey; that the system is close to collapse and investment is urgently needed in a range of responses to mental health crisis.
Steve Chamberlain is chair of The College of Social Work’s AMHP community of interest

About Andy McNicoll

Andy is community editor at Community Care, with a focus on reporting on mental health. He has previously worked for titles focusing on the NHS and substance misuse sectors. You can contact him at