Mental health secondments ‘leaving care staff in limbo’

The secondment of social care staff from councils to mental health trusts to integrate care has been “abused”, with some practitioners left in limbo for five years, an NHS leader has said.

Erville Millar, interim chair of the NHS Confederation’s new trust umbrella body, the Mental Health Network, said most of its members wanted social care staff to become full employees of the trusts for the sake of clarity.

He said: “Most social care staff have been seconded rather than transferred to mental health trusts. Seconding is seen as a vehicle to develop staff but it has been abused nationally. We are going to work towards ending this hybrid arrangement.”

Millar, chief executive of Kent and Medway Partnership Trust, said secondment was being used due to concerns about the cost of transferring pension arrangements, and also admitted some social care staff may prefer it.

He said: “We want to give people the confidence to be employed in a social work or social care role in what is branded as an NHS organisation. I know for some that will be a bridge too far but I think that will have to change over time.”

A Unison report on the integration of health and social care in England, published in March, said some social workers favoured being seconded, rather than transferred, as being employed by the NHS was “seen as a significant issue in maintaining professional independence”.

Roger Hargreaves, the British Association of Social Workers’ mental health lead, said BASW was agnostic on the issue, but said cost had been a barrier to transfer. Employing social workers on trust terms and conditions, set by the NHS Agenda for Change programme, would entail significant pay rises.

Hargreaves said secondment had unsatisfactorily delayed the creation of social care management structures in several trusts. “You can’t set up permanent management structures given you don’t know whether you’ll have responsibility for the staff.”

Two sectors divided by terms and conditions
section 31 of the Health Act 1999 NHS trusts and councils can create integrated services. Many social care staff have been seconded to mental health trusts, under which they remain employed by councils, retaining their terms and conditions, but are managed by trusts, alongside NHS staff on different terms. With a transfer, staff become employed by the trust.

Related articles
More on mental health

Further information
NHS Confederation Mental Health

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 Mithran Samuel



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