Unqualified staff could play greater role in mental health

Unqualified staff should be recruited to play a greater role
working with people who have mental health problems, according to a
new report, writes Anabel Unity Sale.

The document, from the government’s workforce action team into
the mental health national service framework, calls for fundamental
changes in the way the workforce is organised.

One of its key recommendations is the creation of ‘support,
time, recovery workers’ (STR), an entirely new grade of staff who
could provide mental health service users with “companionship,
friendship, regular and practical support”.

STRs are also expected to promote independent living among users
and help them gain access to services and resources such as housing
advice, employment, complementary therapies or intensive short-term

The new initiative would, according to the report, increase
recruitment of people from a variety of backgrounds into the sector
and free up the time and workloads of approved social workers and
other qualified professionals.

The report says: “We expect STR workers either to have a small
caseload with intensive activity or a large caseload of more
general support depending on the service setting and user

David Joannides, a member of the action team and Dorset
Council’s director of social services, told Community
: “Establishing the STRs will give an extra dimension to
the workforce that has not been explored before.”

He said STR workers could be one way of establishing longer term
relationships with users of mental health services: “The one
commodity teams at the moment do not have to give to people with
mental health problems is time. STRs could provide contact, time
and friendship and … more specialised support to help

He added: “If we use the STR workforce responsibly they can
provide support to approved social workers and community practice

But Joannides warned that a STR workforce was not “a soft
option”, and had to be developed sensibly and responsibly.

He said: “If we try to create a new workforce without addressing
issues of training, skills, supervision and ensuring the level of
responsibilities we are asking them to assume are commensurate with
their abilities it will not work. If we get this right it can be a
way of improving services, if not we are into risks and STRs could
lose credibility.”

Other recommendations in the report include establishing a
senior practitioner mental health social work grade to stem the
flow of ASWs going into management.

It says: “The overall shortage of ASWs and the limited
incentives to retain ASW status encourage some of the most
competent practitioners to pursue their careers in management.
Hard-won skills are then lost to practice.”

Final report by the Workforce Action Team from www.doh.gov.uk/mentalhealth/wat.htm#report





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