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Celebrating and developing mental health social work

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Knowledge and skills, Mental health, Research

Our fine colleague, Mental Health Social Work (MHSW) Lead here at DHSC, Mark Trewin often says how privileged he feels to visit MHSWs across the country, many of whom work in integrated partnerships with other agencies, including those within the NHS, voluntary and independent sectors.

An issue frequently raised by social workers and their managers is the desire to better understand the range, scope and access to roles, professional support and development opportunities available within these partnerships.

Mark and Health Education England (HEE) have been working on plans to help social work colleagues do exactly that, as he explains in his latest guest blog.

Scrabble letters spelling out the word vision
What should mental health social work services look like in the context of the NHS Long Term Plan?

Defining and providing support

The CSWs office has made supporting social work across health, social care and integrated partnerships a major priority for 2019/20. I was asked to work with (HEE) on this issue, who were responsible for developing the workforce strategy for mental health services to meet the ambition of the NHSE Long Term Plan (LTP).

Social workers are vital to achieving the LTPs aims of prevention, keeping people out of hospital and working with the social determinants of health. Establishing social work as a core occupation across mental health services is essential to achieving the LTP’s ambitions for effective services and a balanced, sustainable and motivated workforce.

We have, therefore, worked to develop social work within mental health services and improve working environments. Over the next year, we will build on the commitments set out in HEE’s report Stepping Forward to 2020/21: the mental health workforce plan for England (July 2017).

I have been working with HEE as chair of the ‘new roles’ social work mental health group. Eight roles have been identified as having the greatest potential impact on the transformation agenda, including mental health social workers.

map showing Leeds and London
On February 25 and 26 we’ll be holding two events in London and Leeds to introduce the work we have been developing.

Chairs of distinction

The chairs of these groups have been recruited from national organisations able to influence service delivery and drive change to achieve HEE workforce strategy objectives. They report to an oversight group chaired by Dame Sue Bailey and the equalities and diversity group chaired by Jacqui Dyer, who worked on the Mental Health Act Review.

Our group is a brilliant mix of people passionate about supporting the expertise of social work within mental health services. We have representations from integrated mental health services, teaching partnerships, BASW, NICE, Skills for Care and Social Work England – in addition to a lot of helpful input from colleagues from HEE and a range of other NHS organisations including NHS Employers.

On February 25 and 26 we’ll be holding two events in London and Leeds to introduce the work we have been developing. These events begin a process of wider consultation and development to make sure we get the finished products right.

We are very fortunate to have Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the new roles group, as our keynote speaker, supported by our esteemed colleague Stephen Chandler from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), alongside a range of other brilliant speakers and workshop leaders.

mental health word cloud
We have worked with a range of partners to develop practical support, information and advice about the role of mental health social workers.

Work in hand

So, having set the scene – let me summarise the developments we have been working on. The first priority for our group was the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) role. Having developed and published the AMHP workforce plan and service standards last autumn, we wanted to add a range of tools that clearly emphasised and celebrated their vital role.

To achieve this, we have invested in e-learning packages and videos celebrating AMHP roles (featuring real AMHPs!), alongside tools supporting local areas to implement service standards and audit local provision. Our aim is to have consistent levels of support for AMHPs in each area.

Our next priority is support for social workers based in integrated teams and in their work with agencies including the NHS, voluntary and independent sectors. To achieve this, we have worked with a range of partners to develop practical support, information and advice about the role of social workers and how best to support them to enhance multidisciplinary teams.

One of the issues we identified early on was the lack of data on the numbers, employment and role of social workers in mental health services.

To change this we have commissioned our colleagues at NHS Benchmarking to undertake a comprehensive review of mental health social work across all agencies to give us a range of useful information.

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We are working with various agencies to support and develop effective models of partnership.

Identifying best practice

We noticed how mental health social workers and leaders of integrated services often felt isolated from each other and out of the loop when it came to developments affecting their profession elsewhere in the country. A question we are often asked is ‘who is doing this well?’

To help resolve this, we are working with:

  • Skills for Care to develop a comprehensive website and discussion forum for MHSW leaders and managers
  • Various agencies to support and develop effective models of partnership informed by the ‘Social Work for Better Mental Health’ programme
  • Colleagues in forensic mental health services to develop best practice guidance for social work and to update and enhance the social supervision role.
  • Social Work England and the Principal Social Workers Network, to look at the CPD and post qualifying needs of social workers within mental health services to ensure a consistent approach across health and social care agencies.

Manchester's finest

We are also very lucky to be hearing from University of Manchester researchers at the conferences. They’ve been asking people to define what they really want from mental health social workers. Individual service users, their families and carers have all been invited to contribute their thoughts.

Finally, we are in discussion with colleagues in the Department for Education (DfE) children’s social care policy team about how to improve joint working across children’s and adult mental health services.

We’ll be filming participants in a variety of creative ways to record their views on the day. For those who cannot attend, we’ll be live tweeting and discussing the event via our social media colleagues at ‘Beyond the Room’.

Look out for the hashtag #MHSocialWork2020 and join the debate.

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