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Withdrawing social workers from NHS will ‘boost Care Act compliance’, claims council

A local authority considering pulling its mental health social workers out of integrated NHS teams believes the move could save cash and improve delivery of the Care Act.

Somerset County Council will propose scrapping a deal that has seen social workers integrated with Somerset Partnership NHS Trust since 1999.

The proposal, which impacts 60 staff, will be considered by the council’s cabinet at a meeting next month. If agreed, the social workers will be withdrawn from the NHS teams and returned to the local authority’s adult social services department in April.

The move is partly cost-driven. The pressure on local authority finances means the council wants to find £500,000 of savings from its mental health budget and has identified the management fee paid to Somerset Partnership as one option.

Community Care has learned the proposal has also been justified on the grounds it would improve compliance with the Care Act 2014. Some within the local authority feel the current integrated arrangement is failing to meet people’s social care needs early enough.

One source familiar with the situation expressed “shock” at the proposal given the push at national level to integrate health and social care provision.

‘Greater emphasis on prevention’

Asked how delivery on the Care Act would be improved by withdrawing social workers from the NHS trust, a Somerset County Council spokesperson said: “The proposals would enable us to ensure the positive work that has been underway regarding the council’s operating model fully includes mental health staff.

“It would enable greater emphasis on prevention, greater professional support and more direct supervision.”

Staff affected are aware of the plans, he added.

Somerset Partnership said it recognised adult social care services were facing “significant pressures” but insisted the trust remained “fully committed to integration” and hoped a solution could be found to maintain the arrangement.

The proposal follows months of talks between the two parties. Papers from a meeting of Somerset Partnership’s board in July 2015 reveal disputes over the potential for £500,000 of savings to be found from the mental health contract.

The council argued the trust should be able to achieve the savings through changes to back office functions. The trust disagreed, claiming that clinical staff already “carried out more social care activity than the trust was paid for” and warning “healthcare services will be forced to subsidise social care services” if the funding was cut.

At the time the trust said: “It was recognised the reduction in funding could have a detrimental impact on services which were already under considerable pressure. The delivery of integrated mental health services was key and every effort will be made to avoid the disintegration of mental health and social care services.”

Trust remains ‘committed to integration’

Today, Andy Heron, Somerset Partnership’s acting chief executive, said: “Our trust is aware that adult social care services in Somerset are facing significant pressures at present and that a number of options are being considered for their social workers in our mental health teams. As we understand it, there is no formal proposal as yet and we would hope that all options are considered.

“Our trust and Somerset County Council were amongst the pioneers of integrating mental health services during the 1990s and therefore integration between mental health and social care services is deeply embedded at many levels. If adult social care services do decide to withdraw their social workers from our community mental health teams, we are sure that colleagues from Somerset County Council will work with us to scope the likely impact of changes to these long standing arrangements and to do all we can to mitigate this.

“As we understand it, all options are still under consideration. The Trust’s position is very clear: we remain fully committed to integration and we would want to do all that we can to support the continuation of those arrangements wherever possible.”

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