Social work bodies bemoan profession’s omission from NHS workforce plan

BASW and Think Ahead voice disappointment at long-term plan's lack of reference to social workers despite their increasing role in the health workforce

NHS document
Photo: chrisdorney/Adobe Stock

Social work bodies have voiced their disappointment at the absence of any references to the profession in the health service’s long-term workforce plan, issued by NHS England last month.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England criticised the omission in the context of social workers being “a crucial component of the healthcare system”, a stance then backed by Think Ahead, the fast-track training provider for mental health practitioners.

The long-awaited strategy lists student training targets for 36 separate roles, in order to grow the workforce to address the current 112,000 NHS vacancies and meet the needs of an ageing population.

Besides doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists, the roles include occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, psychologists, child and adolescent psychotherapists and peer support workers.

Within mental health – where most NHS social workers are employed – the plan calls for increasing numbers of other roles, including mental health and wellbeing practitioners, who work with people with severe illnesses.

Social work excluded from NHS plan

However, despite mental health trusts having grown their social work workforces by 20%  on the back of NHS targets set in 2019, there were no references to ‘social work’ or ‘social workers’ in the 151-page workforce plan.

Also, while NHS England engaged with 33 royal colleges or professional bodies and seven professional regulators, representing over 30 separate professions, while drawing up the strategy, it did not list BASW or Social Work England among them.

BASW England said social work’s exclusion came despite it undertaking “extensive engagement” with its members to inform its contribution to a call for evidence in 2021 on long-term workforce planning by NHS workforce development body Health Education England (now part of NHS England).

BASW’s ‘deep disappointment’

“It is with deep disappointment that, despite extensive engagement, we note the glaring omission of any mention of social work in the NHS Long Term Plan which constitutes the final report,” said BASW England.

“This omission perpetuates the disheartening sense that social work is simply not considered when it comes to discussions and planning in health and social care services. As a crucial component of the healthcare system, social work should be recognised and valued for the significant contributions it makes towards holistic patient care and the overall well-being of individuals and communities.”

Think Ahead – many of whose trainees go on to work in the NHS as mental health social workers – supported BASW’s stance in a thread on Twitter.

There are several references to social care within the workforce plan, stressing the need to tackle its severe workforce problems and its interdependency with the NHS.

£250m to develop care workforce

In response to the concerns around social work’s omission from the plan, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the social care workforce was “at the centre” of Next steps to put people at the heart of care, the policy paper issued in April setting out its adults’ services agenda.

“This includes £250m for staff to develop their skills through relevant training and progress within their careers with the introduction of the care workforce pathway,” a DHSC spokesperson said.

However, the £250m, available up to 2025, is half the £500m the DHSC originally committed to developing the workforce over this period, which has prompted severe criticism from social care bodies.

In response to this, the DHSC has pointed out that it is yet to allocate £600m in adult social care reform funding up to 2025, some of which may go on the workforce.

The DHSC spokesperson added: “We are also making available £15m for 2023-24 to help local areas establish support arrangements for ethical international recruitment in adult social care.”

, , ,

More from Community Care

4 Responses to Social work bodies bemoan profession’s omission from NHS workforce plan

  1. Anne-Marie July 21, 2023 at 10:04 am #

    DHSC said the social care workforce was “at the centre” of Next steps to put people at the heart of care, the policy paper issued in April setting out its adults’ services agenda.

    This is a major part of the problem. The powers that be in the DHSC and NHS England do not recognise professional social workers as a distinct profession within healthcare or the NHS. They lump us and support workers together and call us the social care workforce. This then leads to confusion within both the NHS and the general public who think that social workers are the bundling fools who take children from their parents or support workers.

    In my own role as a care coordinator, temporary posts are generally advertised for nurses or less frequently nurse / OT’s
    It is the exception where social workers are included in advertisement’s. This leads to NHS Professionals refusing to register social workers for posts – they can’t get their heads around social workers being able to be care coordinators despite there being lots and lots of us working in substantive post in that role within the NHS.

    BASW and the ‘powers that be, need to step up and actively promote the profession showing the positive difference that professional social workers can make for both children and families and adults both inside and out of the NHS.

  2. Harvey Campbell July 21, 2023 at 12:53 pm #

    So the DHSC reply with the answer to a different question? Glad I’m retiring from this Kafkaesque world in 6 days.

  3. Saz July 22, 2023 at 3:37 am #

    It’s funny how we have a department of health and social care, and an “integrated healthcare plan”, when the NHS really IS nothing to do with social care, so there’s no point in putting the two different departments in the same category. Health and social care are not working together. Well that sorts the wheat from the chaff. Apparently, in year 2020, Clinical Commissioning Groups were about to help integrate health and social care together, well it never happened.

  4. Rob Padwick July 25, 2023 at 4:19 pm #

    And where exactly were Social Work England in all of this …..?