Move to NHS may lead to loss of independence, claim social workers

Approved social workers in Hertfordshire are becoming concerned
that their independent role in mental health assessments could be
jeopardised if their employment is transferred to the NHS.

Hertfordshire Council is planning to shift 250 mental health
staff, including its 65 ASWs, to Hertfordshire Partnership NHS
Trust. Although, under the Mental Health Act 1983, ASW duties can
only be carried out under a local authority contract, there is some
debate around whether this means ASWs have to be employed by a

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 viewpoint would be lost if they were
employed by the NHS. Under existing legislation, agreement to
section someone 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 importance of the independence, impartiality of ASWs, and
the need to make independent assessments without constraint of
undue medical pressure is fully accepted,” a spokesperson said.

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

Employees are also worried about their pensions, particularly
staff over the age of 60 who are unable to transfer their pension
to the NHS scheme. Although an employee can object to the transfer,
under statutory regulations an objection would be viewed as a

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