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Social worker at mother and baby unit named MHO of the year

A social worker who specialises in perinatal mental health work was named Mental Health Officer of the year at this year’s SASW MHO forum conference.

Catherine Fergus-Allen is the only social worker and MHO at the mother and baby mental health unit at St John’s hospital in Livingston. The service is the only one of its type in the whole of the NHS Lothian area.

Alistair Brown, chair of SASW’s MHO forum, said social workers and MHOs in Lothian see Catherine as the “go-to person” for advice on perinatal mental health issues.

“The award is so well deserved. Catherine’s just really, really good at what she does and incredibly knowledgeable,” he told SASW’s magazine PSW Scotland.

“She has to juggle so much in her role because she works with mums and babies. So she’s promoting recovery, she’s also working with child protection cases, and then as an MHO has the statutory duties around that. It’s a very difficult job.”

Catherine said she was “so touched” that MHOs nominated her for the award.

“This is of particular importance to me as my post is standalone within a health setting. I really appreciate the validation from peers recognising the type of work I aim to do both with the families I work with and in relation to enhancing social work and MHO colleagues understanding of the specific issues concerning perinatal mental ill health,” she said.

“We’re all in this job to try and help maximise individual choice & ability of independent living, to use protective measures when deemed necessary, and to promote individual rights. I can think of a lot of  colleagues who I come in contact with, who go that extra mile for the people they are working with and doing amazing pieces of work.”

Catherine encouraged social workers and MHOs to nominate colleagues for next year’s awards when they open.

“As a profession I feel we often struggle with celebrating and recognising achievements publicly, but from someone who would have definitely avoided such events in the past, I can honestly recommend gifting the lovely feeling of recognition to a colleague and would encourage others to submit a nomination at the next opportunity.”


The SASW MHO forum annual study conference took place on October 4 at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. Presentations from the day can be downloaded, here.