Around 40% of local authorities have removed, or are considering pulling, mental health social workers from NHS management, according to an estimate by the British Association of Social Workers.
Feedback gathered by BASW’s mental health reference group suggests that around 4 in 10 local authorities in England have already pulled out – or are considering pulling out – of section 75 agreements. The agreements allow for mental health social workers to be placed under the management of NHS mental health trusts in integrated teams.
The impact on mental health social workers has varied in different areas, BASW said.
Some approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) returned to council management report an increase in their workload as they are asked to take on general adults social care work on top of AMHP duties. But in some areas mental health social workers feel that the move back to council management boosts their ability to advocate for patients and challenge mental health trust decisions.
Joe Godden, professional officer at BASW, said the association had a “mixed view” on the merits of councils pulling out of section 75 deals. He said that BASW supported “integration” when it was done well but this “wasn’t always the case”.
A key issue is the local authorities’ motivation for pulling their social workers out of NHS trusts, Godden said.
“Where it can work really well is that you can reinvest the skills and knowledge of social workers specialising in mental health into other social work teams and more community-based support,” Godden said.
“But some local authorities have clearly done it because they have to make considerable savings on their social work budget. They have decided that some of the work that mental health social workers were doing when employed by health did not match the council’s priorities.”
Daisy Bogg, an AMHP and part of the development team at the College of Social Work, said:
“There are pros and cons in both directions, and anxieties are high as it means change, just like when integration in mental health happened in the first place. For me it’s less about the structure and more about the quality of delivery.”
“What we are keen to make sure is that whatever the structures are locally the social perspective is maintained in services,” she added.
One AMHP contacted by Community Care said she was concerned that the moves risked “marginalising social workers” and losing the benefit of integrated teams. The result could see the medical model dominating mental health care, she said.