Fewer social workers are being funded by local authorities to train as approved mental health professionals (AMHPs), a Community Care investigation has found.
Data obtained from 134 local authorities in England and Wales revealed that 282 social workers were funded to undertake AMHP training in 2012/13, down from 298 trainees in 2011/12 and 289 trainees in 2010/11. A third of councils (46) had cut the number of social workers they funded for AMHP training from 2011/12 levels while 47 local authorities maintained trainee levels and 41 councils funded more trainees this year.
The slight drop in the overall number of social workers being trained up for AMHP duties comes despite evidence that the number of qualified AMHPs fell at two-fifths of local authorities in 2012/13, leading to concerns from social workers that increasing the workload on a smaller number of AMHPs could put patients and professionals’ own health at risk.
Councils have a statutory duty under the Mental Health Act to ensure that “a sufficient” number of AMHPs are available in each area, although no set number of AMHPs is specified.
Local authorities which reported a drop in the numbers of AMHP trainees attributed the fall to a number of issues. These included the withdrawal of NHS funding contributions to AMHP training in some areas, training programmes being cancelled, applicants failing to make it through the funding selection process and, in one area, no social workers applying for the training despite funding being available.
Social workers said that a squeeze on training budgets and a reluctance of senior local authority and NHS management to release social work or health staff to undertake AMHP training was adding to the pressures.
Daisy Bogg, a social worker and member of The College of Social Work’s AMHP leads network, said: “Effectively you’re releasing one of your team members for six months to do AMHP training, so a lot of managers, particularly if they are under pressure, don’t see it as a priority.”
“Training up staff as AMHPs definitely brings value to teams but that value comes after the training. Where senior managers recognise that it’s great, but a lot look at the short-term first, particularly at the moment,” added Bogg.
Martin Webber, a social work academic at the University of York who led a national survey on the AMHP workforce published last year that highlighted concerns over the supply of AMHPs, said that falling AMHP numbers could also reflect “a reluctance on the part of practitioners to take on the role because of its impact on workload”.
Joe Godden, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said a shortage of AMHPs is already forcing social workers to do additional AMHP duty shifts.
The added stress of ongoing problems obtaining beds and complaints about the “impact of frozen wages” could see an AMHP shortage worsen if even more of the ageing AMHP workforce (the average age is estimated to be 50+) quit, Godden warned.
“Local authorities need to carefully audit the impact of the reductions in the number of AMHPs and ensure that they have a coherent workforce strategy regarding numbers, retention, recruitment and training,” he said.
“BASW is worried that what is happening is salami slicing of an essential service, that is not only very important, but also a legal requirement.”
Related articlesAndy McNicoll is Community Care’s community editor