Independence fears of mental health workers

Approved social workers in Hertfordshire are becoming
increasingly concerned that their independent role in mental health
assessments could be jeopardised under moves to transfer their
employment to the NHS, writes Katie

Hertfordshire Council is planning to transfer 250 mental health
staff, including its 65 ASWs, to Hertfordshire Partnership NHS

Although under the Mental Health Act 1983 an approved social
worker has to be an officer of a local social services authority,
there is disagreement about whether this means a person has to be
employed by a council.

One option being considered by Hertfordshire Council is for ASWs
to be given an honorary “no hours” contract by the
local authority, but for them to work for the trust.

But this has raised serious concerns among ASWs, who are worried
that their independent voice and the social care viewpoint would be
lost if they were employed by the NHS. Under existing legislation,
in assessing whether to section someone, agreement has to be sought
from two doctors and an ASW.

“ASWs are independent,” stressed one Hertfordshire
ASW. “If we’re employed by the NHS, how much of that
independence can we retain?”

Robert McLean, chairperson of the Approved Social Worker
Interest Group, said that whether it was legal for an ASW to be
appointed by a local authority, but then employed by a trust had
not yet been tested in court, but he could see nothing to stop it

Hertfordshire Council said that further detailed work needed to
be carried out to establish whether ASWs could or should be
transferred, both legally and from a service point of view.

The majority of the staff will transfer by 1 January 2004, but
the situation regarding ASWs will be reviewed in April.

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