Proposals for the Care Quality Commission to regulate the Approved Mental Health Professional teams could boost support for staff by holding councils to account on their statutory duty to provide sufficient services, according to leading social workers.
A Department of Health and CQC review is underway to consider whether AMHP services should be brought under CQC regulation. The review was triggered by concerns that a lack of national scrutiny of AMHP services had led to inconsistent monitoring from councils around the capacity and quality of services.
Councils have a statutory duty under the Mental Health Act to ensure AMHP provision is sufficient to support a round-the-clock service. There is no national monitoring of AMHP provision and the CQC has previously revealed that one local authority was left with too few AMHPs to deliver a safe service after making staff redundant and cutting pay levels.
Faye Wilson, chair of the British Association of Social Workers’ mental health forum, said in practice the statutory duty to ensure sufficient AMHP provision was effectively being ignored by many councils and CQC regulation could help hold them to account.
“We’ve got AMHPs in some areas that are really struggling and their local authorities aren’t leading them or supporting them. Some councils simply base their AMHPs in NHS mental health trusts and then basically ignore them,” she said.
“There is a real lack of leadership from some councils and that isn’t helped by there being no national oversight of how they are fulfilling their statutory function. It’s not acceptable.”
Wilson said BASW welcomed the DH review and had pushed for CQC action in this area. She said the CQC wanted to work with the AMHP community to identify what was needed to improve local authority leadership of the role, including better support and training for staff.
‘Any system can’t just be punitive’
Ruth Allen, chair of the The College of Social Work’s mental health faculty, said more details were needed on the DH review and the proposals for any regulatory regime, but felt the project was focusing on “the right issue”.
“We need a much better system of accountability for the provision of strong AMHP services. The staffing numbers, the support for staff and the quality of services being provided all need looked at. It isn’t well overseen just now,” she said.
“If the CQC doesn’t take into account fhe quality of AMHP services, they can’t effectively regulate mental health services. Inspections at the moment look at everything but social care and AMHPs and they are very hospital-focused. So bringing regulatory scrutiny to AMHP provision might address some of these issues but if it is introduced it needs to be used to improve workforce planning and development, not just as a punitive measure.”