New social work roles to be created under community mental health framework

The framework, issued last week, aims to reduce bureaucracy and administration for social workers while reducing referrals and assessments.

Service user talking to social worker
Photo: iStock

New roles in mental health social work are set to be created under a framework for delivering community mental health care launched last week.

The framework, issued by the NHS England, aims to reduce bureaucracy and administration for social workers and other mental health practitioners, while removing the divide between primary care and community care to reduce the number of referrals and assessments people face. It is part of the NHS Long Term Plan, under which an additional £2.3bn will be spent on mental health by 2023-24.

One of the social workers involved in developing the framework, Carla Fourie, said that she and others were working with Skills for Care to develop a number of new roles that would support its delivery.

New hospital roles

“We’re looking at things like whether we will need more social workers based in hospitals to help with discharges and out of area placements so they can be treated closer within their own locality,” said Fourie, who is associate director for social care, partnerships and equality at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. .

This work is being led by Health Education England, which has a specific new role implementation group in relation to social workers in mental health, said Mark Trewin, mental health social work lead in the chief social worker’s officer at the Department of Health and Social Care.

“The social work group is looking at supporting a range of issues in relation to the social work role within health and social care mental health generally and the NHS specifically; this includes looking at the roles we need in future to implement the NHS’s Long Term Plan and new Mental Health Act, said Trewin, who was also involved in developing the new framework

600 additional social workers

The framework follows NHS England’s plans, announced in August, to recruit 600 more social workers into mental health services to help it deliver on the long-term plan.

The majority of these posts (360) are due to be in adult mental health and community care services, while 170 social workers would be recruited to work with children and young people, and 70 allocated to support services for people who are homeless.

An NHS England spokesperson said at the time social workers would be a “key staff group” in these services and would be working in “new and improved models of community-based care”

The framework said that the development of community mental health needs had “stagnated” over recent years, while specialist teams had been developed to deal with particular areas of care. This had led to fragmentation and discontinuity of care, with people facing multiple assessments and delays in treatment, and dropping out of services or being prevented from accessing them due to rigid specifications.

Reducing fragmentation

The framework would tackle this by bringing together primary care, CMHT and residential services, catering for people with any level of need, in a new service covering a population of 30,000 to 50,000. It would deliver assessment, care co-ordination and planning and a range of interventions and treatments. Specialist services for those with more complex needs, including crisis and inpatient care, would be delivered over larger areas but would “plug into” the core community service.

Fourie said the new framework aimed to break down fragmentation between services, making pathways smoother so “people don’t fall through the net”.

“In some areas referral into mental health may only be through the GP, and it can be really hard for people to access services because they’re then waiting and being bounced around answering the same questions, repeating their history to all these different services.

“Instead, we want to have multi-disciplinary teams who can refer people directly to the services they need. We really want people to have better outcomes and experiences in the system and have that network for support within the community,” Fourie said.

Better support for rough sleepers

She said it also aimed to make it easier for practitioners to work with people with complex needs such as rough sleepers or those in the criminal justice systems.

Trewin said that the new model would promote a more “creative and person centered approach to community mental health work”.

“This may mean moving away from separate team-based working, where teams refer to each other, and to work to replace this with a place-based model based on equal access, services that put the person rather than organisations at the centre,” he said.

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5 Responses to New social work roles to be created under community mental health framework

  1. Debbie Lloyd October 8, 2019 at 5:53 pm #

    This is refreshing to see. Can anyone comment on how it fits with Local Authorities receding the sec 75 agreements with health and care trusts and pulling social workers out of specialist mental health teams back into social services generic adult teams? We have just had this in my local area, where mental health social workers are no longer able to work with complex dementia cases. While some of us are still working with older adult functional patients, there are not many of us left and we are concerned we will be sent back to area teams. This has been ver sad and we do not feel has been in the best interest of patients and their families.

    • Anonymous October 11, 2019 at 6:00 am #

      Hi. I’m not sure how this would fit. It’s my understanding that the receding of the Section 75 in most cases is because when local authorities start to enquire about how there delegated duties under the Care Act are being met, they find that they aren’t being met and in some cases statutory social work itself is almost invisible.

  2. Bob Ford October 9, 2019 at 8:26 pm #

    These aren’t new roles these are social work! Being in a hospital doing SW isn’t a role. SW out of area isn’t a role. It’s social work practice. Really positive to see more SWs in services. Much needed but let’s not make up false identities like new roles.

  3. Mark Trewin October 9, 2019 at 9:45 pm #

    Hello Debbie – this is a really important point and I agree with you that the ending of integrated or partnership arrangements can be really disruptive and negative for staff and service users. The community MH framework needs LA support to work effectively. There are also sometimes good reasons for the LA to take more control over the services it funds and delivers via the NHS. Staff welfare and training or Care Act and MCA implementation are often reasons given – although lack of oversight by LAs can also be an issue. We are supporting the social work for better MH programme to work with teams where integration needs to be reviewed and to support LA and NHS partners to find new, more appropriate ways of working together rather than just suddenly ending the current arrangements. To help this we are looking at guidance for NHS Trusts and LAs on employing social workers in integrated teams and looking at the new, more innovative models of partnership that put people at the centre rather than organisational needs. Some form of integrated service delivery is at the heart of the govt prevention plan and the NHS Long Term Plan and the new MHA so it is important we understand how to make these arrangements work more effectively.
    if you want to contact me on I am happy to discuss your situation.

    • Denise Radley October 9, 2019 at 11:23 pm #

      Mark – really helpful and thoughtful response. Huge opportunities in this framework and the new models which we are proud to be part of in Tower Hamlets. Integrated teams working with people at the centre and making it easier to access services with less duplication & movement between services. I agree with Bob’s response too about the role of social work – distinct and highly skilled professionals using strengths based and recovery focused approaches. Look forward to discussing further when you visit us!