Approved mental health professionals set to strike over night shift row

Unison claims council’s introduction of compulsory night shift rota to replace ‘opt-in’ system potentially puts staff and service users at risk

A group of Approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) are set to strike over a council’s insistence that they take on some night shifts in addition to daily case work.

AMHPs employed by Brighton and Hove city council will stop providing out-of-hours support for at least six weeks unless the local authority withdraws threats to dismiss staff that refuse to provide overnight cover, which used to be optional, the council’s Unison branch said.

The strike action is due to begin on Friday. Talks between union leaders and the council will start tomorrow in a last-ditch bid to settle the dispute.

Long-running dispute

AMHPs are the group of specially trained professionals, mostly social workers, responsible for coordinating Mental Health Act assessments.

The planned strike is the latest development in a long-running dispute between the council and the union over the introduction of a compulsory night shift rota for AMHPs in late 2014. Previously AMHPs at the local authority had been allowed to voluntarily opt in to provide overnight cover.

All local authorities have a statutory duty under the Mental Health Act Code of Practice to provide a 24-hour AMHP service that can respond to patients’ needs.

Unison said that the voluntary night rota “had successfully been in place for years” and claimed that moves to force AMHPs to work both day and night shifts could put staff and service users at risk.

“It is quite possible that an AMHP will work all day, be called out at night for several hours, and have appointments the following morning and afternoon,” the union said.

However, a council spokeswoman said that recent staffing changes had left a few staff working a “disproportionate” number of night shifts under the voluntary rota system.

“In order to ensure that we continue to run a safe and timely service, we now feel the services need to be on a more formal basis and not reliant on volunteers. As a result, we have begun a period of consultation with staff,” the spokeswoman said.

Alternative proposals

Previous strike action planned for spring was suspended after the council agreed to talks over potential alternatives to the compulsory rota. Unison suggested that new staff could be appointed onto contracts requiring them to work on an on-call rota or a joint rota with a neighbouring local authority could be set up to boost AMHP out-of-hours capacity.

However, the union claims that it received no communication from the local authority as to the outcome of its proposals and, in mid-July, the council wrote to six Unison members threatening them with disciplinary action if they did not attend a rota induction meeting.

A meeting between Unison and AMHPs was held last Monday. The union was instructed to inform the council that strike action would resume and asked to put forward another proposed alternative to the compulsory rota for the local authority’s consideration.

‘An essential service’

Alex Knutsen, secretary of the Unison branch at Brighton and Hove, said: “Unison put forward numerous alternatives to cover this essential service in a manner that does not place our dedicated members at risk, and more so, the people they assist.

“With a new proposals from the branch there is some hope that a resolution can be reached, but the first requirement will be that the threat of dismissal is withdrawn, in writing – if it is, we can resume talks and maybe avoid further action.”

Denise D’Souza, the council’s director of adult services, said: “We are looking forward to meeting Unison this week to hear their proposals to assist us in having a robust 24-hour approved mental health professional service across the city.

“We have a statutory duty to provide a responsive and sustainable service that ensures residents in need of an urgent assessment under the Mental Health Act receive one in a timely way throughout the day or night.”

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6 Responses to Approved mental health professionals set to strike over night shift row

  1. Ruth Cartwright August 12, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

    I find it outrageous that this local authority is seeking to exercise its mandatory responsibilities by seeking to bully staff in this way. As working nights was never part of these workers’ contracts, I don’t see how they can be disciplined in any way for not being prepared to do this. There will be people on the ASW Rota with caring responsibilities for children or other family members for whom might work is simply not possible, let alone the pressure of working nights and keeping the day job going. I hope Unison and the staff concerned are able to get this proposal overturned – the obvious solution would be to take on ‘nights only’ workers, but of course they will have to be paid properly rather than just getting more work out of already overburdened mental health professionals.

  2. keithbc August 12, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    The idea of 24 hour care (whether AMHP service or provision of mental health services) has been talked about for many years now. Service users/patients etc have always wanted such services to be available as mental health does not just happen between 0900-1700.

    However, this has not lead to a 24 hour service provision and, indeed, we use out of hours workers (different team) who will prioritise the referrals for MHA assessment and will spill over many that are not a priority to the day time rota

  3. The wise owl August 12, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    The likely response from the LA will be to change the terms of their contracts! Watch this space.

  4. Sue Rosson August 12, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    What happened to duty of care towards employees. How is this system going to be managed and is there enhanced rates for unsociable hours (whatever that maybe )?
    Many highly experienced and committed ADW’s will vote with their feet leaving the remainder to get on with it.

  5. An OOHs Amhp manager August 13, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

    I manage an OOhs AMHp service Recruitment has always been difficult ,but it is increasingly so ; particularly for OOhs , and 9-5 . We know nationally that AMHPs are a scarce resource Basing a service on coercion is not a good service model Both in terms of service delivery and recruitment and retention . Such a path may produce a short term result . But very quickly staff will leave and both “night” and potentially day AMHP services will be at risk . Any fool can bully staff ,but to produce a sustainable service model requires negotiation ; support ,and resource . A comodiities that appears to be in short supply at Brighton Coucil ?

  6. Terry McClatchey August 17, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    If the Council does not have a very large number of AMHPs, it is likely to have difficulty with EWTD as all such long shifts will be classed as working time even if not fully active.