Statement from Mental Health social workers in Barnet
We are deeply disappointed that despite two years of social workers raising increasing concerns regarding the safety and sustainability of mental health social care, Barnet Council continues to deny that there is a recruitment and retention problem in mental health social work.
42% of social workers within the Mental Health Social Care Service have left within the past year whilst more still have formal plans to leave the teams within the next few months, meaning this figure is closer to 50%. Furthermore, the majority of workers who have left have been those with by far the most experience, with many of these workers previously working their entire careers in mental health services within Barnet. When looking at information regarding the mental health experience of permanent staff members, one team has lost 75% of the experience within their team in less than one year. The result is that social workers who are recently qualified make up the bulk of the teams.
The loss of experienced social workers has significantly contributed to increasingly high waiting lists. The Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman consider it reasonable for a person to wait 4-6 weeks for an assessment. The waiting list within Barnet is now up to 15 months. This time last year it was 6 months, demonstrating the significant detrimental impact that not retaining experienced social workers is having on the service.
Mental Health Social Workers continue to express concerns that, as they are not able to assess and meet the needs for residents in a reasonable time, people with severe mental ill-health are not receiving the support they need to remain well and live in the community. This can lead to otherwise avoidable, or delayable, deterioration to mental health and can result in the person’s compulsory admission to hospital on a mental health ward. Social workers have been raising that this is not fair on those who experience mental ill health, nor those who support them, such as family and friends. It is also not in line with the principles or ethos of the Care Act 2014, which is underpinned by a responsibility for local authorities to promote wellbeing and to prevent, delay, and reduce a person’s needs for care and support.
The teams require a stable team comprised of permanent and experienced staff. This cannot be achieved when staff are leaving at such high rates. Mental Health Social Workers have therefore been asking Barnet Council to apply a Recruitment and Retention payment which is already in place for social workers within Family Services.
Alarmingly, despite all the evidence provided to Barnet Council, it continues to report inaccurate information regarding recruitment and retention, claiming much higher rates than are true. This has resulted in continued dismissal of the concerns raised by the workers.
According to the British Association of Social Workers, Social Workers have a responsibility to promote and work to the Code of Ethics, which has underpinned social work practice since 1975. The code sets out that social workers are expected to bring inadequate resources to the attention of their employers and that they should be prepared to challenge ineffective procedures and practice. Social Workers are regulated by Social Work England which sets out professional standards for all social workers in England. These standards state that social workers should raise concerns about unsafe practice and should challenge practices, systems, and processes where necessary.
Social workers therefore have a duty to raise concerns and advocate for those whom they serve. Mental health social workers in Barnet have been meeting these responsibilities throughout the two years they have been raising increasing concerns. We see industrial action as a necessary extension of our responsibilities as social workers to advocate for those we serve, particularly those who may not be able to advocate for themselves.
We are challenging the lack of a safe service and the unreasonable and increasing waiting lists which put the residents of Barnet at risk of harm. We are asking for a recruitment and retention payment to maintain a stable and permanent workforce of experienced staff. We will continue to advocate for the residents of Barnet and unless Barnet Council implements a reasonable recruitment and retention payment to keep experienced staff in Barnet, we will continue to return to the picket line come rain, shine, or more rain, to raise awareness and fight for residents.
Why? Because we are social workers and THIS is what social work looks like.
Barnet UNISON Mental Health social workers.