Social work team praised by Ofsted targeted in council cost-cutting drive

Children's mental health services also braced for cuts and job losses, despite opposition from social work and NHS agencies

A hospital social work team praised by Ofsted is set to be disbanded, despite warnings from NHS agencies that the move could “impede the child protection process”.

The plan to withdraw the social work team from Birmingham Children’s Hospital and provide the support through “mainstream social work services” is one of a series of savings outlined in a new draft budget considered by Birmingham council’s cabinet this week.

The budget will be put before full council later this month and is provisionally set to be signed off on 26 February.

The move, which the council says will save over £1.6m by 2016/17, was included in the draft budget despite a public consultation last month revealing opposition from social work campaigners and health agencies.

In its consultation response, Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Trust warned that withdrawing the hospital social work team could delay child protection referrals, damage information sharing and drive up costs.

The service had been highlighted as “good practice” by Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspectors in 2010 due to its effective joint working between social work and health staff, the hospital said.

The draft budget also includes a targeted £5.7m of savings in child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) by 2016/17, despite opposition from health and social care professionals to the move.

The council said it was being forced to make the cuts due to grant funding for the service expiring in 2010. “Responsiblity for this service now lies with the NHS,” the draft business plan states.

The Social Work Action Network said that the cuts to children’s mental health services were “attacking the most vulnerable”.

Birmingham Children’s Hospital said that the move could see up to 25-30 frontline clinical staff made redundant. The improved access currently offered by Camhs services “would be completely unsustainable” under the plans and at least 1,200 fewer referrals would be managed within the service, the hospital said.

Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, said that proposed cuts to mental health services were “particularly concerning” as incidents of self harm “continue to rise” and there are few alternatives sources of support.

Other plans in the draft budget include:

  • £4.4m savings from voluntary sector children’s services in 2013/14, despite 59% of the public disagreeing with the proposal in an online consultation.
  • A targeted reduction in the costs of the contact and escort service of over £3m by 2016/17 through a “reduction in the number of children in care”. This service supports contact between parents and children in care.
  • A review of the eligibility criteria for families of disabled children receiving direct payments, as part of a drive to save £2m in disabled children’s services by 2016/17.
  • £1m savings from children’s homes in 2013/14.
  • A “restructuring” of the adoption service to save £100,000 a year until 2016/17.

Bridget Robb, acting chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “Local authorities may be attracting the criticism for cuts, but the blame lies with central government for mishandling the money that they give to councils.”

A Birmingham council spokesperson said: “Discussions are continuing with our health colleagues and we are hopeful that a review of hospital social work will lead to a renewed service delivery model that meets the needs of both trusts.”

is Community Care’s community editor

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