Despite a distinct rise in need for mental health workers, two fifiths of councils have reduced staff numbers of Approved Mental Health Professionals.
Social work leaders and unions warn that reduction in Approved Mental Health Professional provision at 40% of councils could damage social workers’ own mental health and put patients at risk
Community Care have found in an investigation that 43% of local authorities in England and Wales (51 out of 119) had fewer AMHP in January 2013 than January 2012.
Unions and social work leaders said the drop was of “serious concern” as there is already an increase in workload and mental health social workers are already struggling. Last year saw the highest number of detentions under the Mental Health Act since it was introduced.
Although it has already been suggested by the Care Quality Commission that local authorities had cut AMHP numbers despite rising workloads, the findings reveal the extent of the reduction in staff doing AMHP duties.
Although there is no set number, local authorities have a duty to ensure a sufficient number of AMHPs are available to carry out their roles and be able to respond to all patients needs under the Act.
Community Care found:
Councils contacted by Community Care attributed a number of reasons to the fall in AMHP numbers. These included staff quitting posts, going on sick leave and retiring. Local authorities in parts of England said that some AMHP trainees had also “not qualified as expected”, meaning they could not fill the gaps left by outgoing staff.
British Association of Social Workers (BASW) received reports that several AMHPs at one English council had quit after refusing to accept the local authority’s demands that they do night time on-call duties for “no extra payment”, said Wilson. Other social workers who had rejected the demand had been “stripped of AMHP status” by the council and made to work in other teams.
AMHPs in other areas told Community Care they felt “unsupported” in their roles due to a lack of senior managers with mental health experience.
Data from local authorities in Scotland on the number of Mental Health Officer posts (the equivalent of the AMHP role in Scotland) found that more councils north of the border had increased provision. Of 16 councils in Scotland that returned data, six had increased Mental Health Officer numbers, seven had maintained them and three had reduced provision.
Faye Wilson, chair of the BASW mental health reference group, said social workers had reported of a number of concerns over AMHP shortages:
We know that some local authorities have allowed AMHPs to take redundancies and consequently there are not enough of them. Yet the CQC has warned about the rising number of Mental Health Act detentions and the bed pressures that AMHPs are having to deal with.
If you reduce AMHP numbers, even by just one or two, the extra pressure on AMHPs to fill rotas is a recipe for staff burnout and stress.
Helga Pile, social work lead at Unison, said:
At a time when caseloads for social workers are going through the roof and staff numbers are falling, the additional pressure of doing AMHP duty can be too much.
This goes to highlight once again the need for much better support for AMHPs and for much tighter requirements on local authorities about what the statutory duty to appoint ‘a sufficient number’ should mean in practice.