‘We must invest in developing and supporting social work leaders within health settings’

Jemima Burnage, head of social work and safeguarding for the Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, explores the need for joint leadership development programmes across the NHS and social work

By Jemima Burnage

Jemima Burnage

I welcome the recent article on female leadership by Andrea Sutcliffe, the new chief inspector of social care for the Care Quality Commission. Andrea is an inspiration to women in social work and social care and it is fantastic to see the rise in high profile female leaders across the sector. Her article also sets the scene for a discussion about social work leadership in the NHS, a subject I have been musing on recently.

I am currently head of social work and safeguarding for the Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, having started off my career as a support worker. Social work is a profession I am passionate about and proud of. I believe good social workers can transform people’s futures by working alongside them, their families and communities to unlock their own potential for change.

In 2011, I was privileged to be selected from 1,000 applicants from across the NHS professions to be one of 60 people to undertake a Clinical Leadership Fellowship. I am now the only NHS clinical fellow in the country who comes from a social work professional background.

The fellowship gives practising clinicians with leadership responsibilities the opportunity to develop and share their knowledge and skills. While I was going through the programme, I began to consider the need for integrated leadership development programmes, bringing NHS and social work leaders together and supporting the latter group to have a louder voice within shared settings.

The coalition government says it is more committed than ever to making coordinated health and social care a reality and I firmly believe that integration has the potential to improve outcomes for people. But I think we need to take stock and seriously consider how to support and invest in the development of social work and social care leaders at all levels across the health and social care economy.

Effective and successful integration is a bit like a really good quality cake: it is pretty solid and holds together; it meets our expectations and satisfies our needs because it has all the right ingredients; it was made with compassion; baked at the right temperature; and stored in the right environment. Social work is one of the key ingredients of this cake. Therefore, if we are truly committed to the success of future integrated health services, then alongside a strong voice from people using services, we will need a more visible presence of social work and social care leadership. This must be embedded within integrated structures, from frontline to board level, so that social work is on a par with health.

In order to make this happen, we need to bring existing leadership development programmes closer together. We could start by building upon the separate programmes for health and social care run by the National Skills Academy for Social Care and the NHS Leadership Academy. We must also learn from existing models of integration, such as mental health services, and explore new opportunities to integrate with services for people’s physical health, which would allow us to support people holistically and focus on prevention and co-production.

Perhaps most importantly, social work leaders working in health organisations must take responsibility for developing and supporting social workers, not only to develop their skills to deliver best social work practice and outcomes, but to help them to achieve their potential as the next generation of leaders of integrated services.

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2 Responses to ‘We must invest in developing and supporting social work leaders within health settings’

  1. andy cooke October 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    Great article and has resonance with my recent experience. I respond as a Shared Lives carer for an adult with complex epilepsy and not from a leadership viewpooint. Holistic and joined up response with the carer and NHS services would have had significant positve and speedier outcomes for my client. I am thinking that we can learn much from mental health approaches to recovery and apply them in other areas but must be holistic, understandale and with social wokers and carers as key players. Thanks for making me valued by leadership.

  2. Laurie Harper October 15, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    There is too much talk of “leaders” and too great store is set by them. When a problem rears its head, the stock response seems to be to appoint a new “leader” and hey presto, job’s a good ‘un. Well, er, no. Care is not delivered by leaders and figureheads, but by a veritable army of people, many of who are poorly paid (if at all – a lot of family members who care struggle on alone and unaided) and even exploited. Appointing more leaders and figureheads and bandying fashionable words and phrases such as “holistic”, “joined up” and “integrated” doesn’t change the everyday and sometimes gritty reality of delivering care. Can we stop kidding ourselves that a few highly paid and high profile people are all we need to make things better?