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Concern over break up of multi-disciplinary working in mental health teams

Social workers have expressed concern that multi-disciplinary working in mental health services is being eroded and the safety of service users is being put at risk.

A snapshot survey of social workers working in the field of mental health by the British Association of Social Workers found evidence of mental health teams being restructured and social workers removed without consultation.

They warn of a loss of joined-up working, greater duplication of tasks and increased likelihood of service users’ mental health problems escalating into crisis.

BASW carried out the small-scale survey following reports from members of the termination of Section 75 agreements where local authorities fund the NHS to provide ‘one stop’ mental health services delivered by a range of professionals working in partnership under one roof.

Last summer BASW's Mental Health Reference Group estimated that as many as four out of ten local authorities in England have already pulled out – or are considering pulling out - of Section 75 agreements.

A total of 76 people responded to the latest survey, of which 17 were no longer working in multi-disciplinary mental health teams (MDTs).

Of those no longer in MDTs, 70% said they believe there is an increased likelihood of risk or a serious incident or crisis affecting service users as a result of the break up of multi-disciplinary working.

Six out of ten said there was less communication with other professionals and the same proportion found it harder to arrange planning and case meetings.

Nearly six out of ten reported spending less time with service users and nearly eight in ten said they no longer had access to health information electronically.

Nearly seven out of ten said loss of working in the same location as other mental health professionals had led them to consider quitting their job.

Of the 59 social workers who still work in MDTs, nine out of ten said they believed integrating services at one location benefited service users. Six out of ten said it reduced the likelihood of serious incidents occurring.

Despite the strong feelings, however, there was evidence of MDTs undermining the professional integrity of the social work role – more than half held this view.

Concerns at their demise were nonetheless clear, with one survey respondent concerned over the termination of Section 75 agreements stating: “I am seeing a fantastic mental health service being destroyed due to the disintegration of health and social services. It has been so distressing, as this is completely against my belief of how to work within the field of mental health.”

Another said: “I have just moved from a team which was fully integrated to one which is more co-located and am shocked at the degree of disjointed working, duplication of tasks and lack of team working.”

Joe Godden, Professional Officer on behalf of BASW’s Mental Health Reference Group, said: “The survey provides a snapshot into the current working of MDTs across England.

“It does not claim to be an academic piece of research, but does represent the views of a significant number of practitioners working across many of the mental health trusts and local authorities in England.

“The findings are concerning regarding the future of mental health services and the impact upon service users reliant upon inter-disciplinary working and the benefit they get from having a one stop service.”