The Department of Health (DH) is set to hand The College of Social Work responsibility for accrediting best interests assessor (BIA) training programmes in a bid to plug a gap in the scrutiny of course standards, Community Care understands.
The DH confirmed to Community Care that it saw a role for TCSW in approving BIA programmes in the long-term. The move comes amid concerns that the current approval process is out-of-date and the quality of courses too inconsistent due to a lack of oversight nationally.
BIAs, who are often social workers, play a crucial role under the Deprivation of liberty safeguards (Dols), in deciding whether people have been deprived of their liberty in care homes or hospital and whether this in their best interests. BIA courses can currently only be delivered by a list of training providers that were approved by the General Social Care Council (GSCC), the former social care regulator that closed in 2012.
Since the GSCC’s closure, the DH took on responsibility for approving BIA courses. But three key gaps have emerged: the list of approved providers has remained static; the framework for approval has not been amended in the two years since the GSCC was abolished despite substantial changes in Dols case law during that period; and concerns have been raised over a lack of scrutiny of the ongoing quality of BIA courses that were approved by the GSCC.
Longstanding concerns have been raised over the variable quality of BIA training, including by TCSW. These have intensified in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in March. The ruling, in the cases of Cheshire West and P and Q, effectively lowered the threshold for what constitutes deprivation of liberty in care. In doing so it dramatically increased the number of people requiring assessment for protection under the Dols scheme. There was already a shortage of BIAs prior to the court ruling and local authorities have been scrambling to train more BIAs to help meet the surge in demand.
The DH said that the availability of training courses has been boosted by approved providers partnering with employers. Some of the approved courses are also increasing the number of exam boards per year to speed up the qualification of BIAs. But Community Care understands that the reliance on partnering arrangements is seen as a short-term solution. The DH confirmed that it sees TCSW taking on some role in approving and accrediting courses in the long-term.
Daisy Bogg, practice development advisor at TCSW, told Community Care that TCSW had made recommendations to the DH about how a BIA accreditation scheme could work. The scheme had been piloted with existing courses, councils and Dols leads in recent months but TCSW had yet to hear from DH on whether the proposals would be taken-up, she said.
Bogg said that a new mechanism was needed because the GSCC’s closure in 2012 had left a “bottleneck” in the system for approving course quality.
“There is no formal regulation of BIA courses at the moment beyond the list that was approved in 2012 and the quality assurance that is in place at individual universities, which is often academic focused rather than practice focused,” she said.
“We also don’t have a mechanism for checking that courses are being kept up to date. Dols has changed a lot since the GSCC approved that list. There needs to be a mechanism for checking that courses are up-to-date, that the quality is there and the courses are capable.”
Mike Lyne, lecturer in mental health social work at Bournemouth University, which provides BIA qualifications and training, said any move to close the variability in what different BIA training courses offer would be welcomed.
“Individual universities have been pretty much allowed to do what they wanted after getting GSCC accreditation. There hasn’t been enough independent oversight or scrutiny of what is being taught beyond each university’s internal monitoring process and the external examiner processes. For example, you’ll get variation on things like the number of taught days a course offers or whether or not there is a requirement for students to shadow a BIA,” he said.
“In the past many courses didn’t require shadowing because there were actually very few Dols assessments so you couldn’t guarantee students would get a chance to shadow. But now the case law [Cheshire West in particular] has changed that.
“Universities have the chance to shape their courses in response and there is an opportunity to improve the consistency of what courses are teaching. From a commissioner’s point of view, picking a BIA training course has too often been wing and a prayer stuff. They have too often had to cross their fingers and hope that the course they have commissioned would meet the standards they need.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “More people than ever before are getting the opportunity to do approved BIA training because providers are working with employers to offer more courses to meet the demand. Training is also more flexible with more opportunities to sit exams during the year and some providers offering training in workplaces.
“BIA training providers work using criteria set out by GSCC and approved by the Secretary of State for Health.”