Council delays transfer of social workers

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Moves to merge teams of specialist social workers with mental health colleagues should be put on hold until staff fears about the change have been sorted out.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Moves to merge teams of specialist social workers with mental health colleagues should be put on hold until staff fears about the change have been sorted out

Norfolk County Council's ruling cabinet agreed to delay the introduction of a transfer of social workers currently seconded to Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Care trust after 100 of the 130 staff affected raised concerns about the switch.

Workers have been working in integrated teams for around four years, but the proposals would see county council permanently transferred to the NHS from April next year.


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While staff set out a number of benefits for the integrated service they raised fears about access to professional training and differing management styles.

Union members gathered outside county hall today urging councillors to rethink the move.

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Opponents claim the more hierarchical approach of the NHS means that the views of social workers may not be heeded. And they are also critical of changes to the referral system which means that most patients trying to access mental health services need to be seen by a GP first.

Chris Mowle, cabinet member for adult social services, said: “There's no doubt in my view that a fully integrated mental health service for vulnerable adults will deliver significant benefits for users,” he said. “Our staff have expressed issues they need to have satisfactorily resolved. I feel I can't recommend a transfer until they are.”

Terry Skyrme, from Unison, said the current system was more accountable because staff were answerable to elected politicians.

“We need to be able to challenge the views of doctors on behalf of our clients. If we are under the same management, it's more difficult to do that,” he said.

The county council also raised concerns about plans by Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust to switch in-patient acute assessment beds for older people from Northgate Hospital in Yarmouth to Carlton Court, near Lowestoft.

The switch is planned because the Northgate site cannot meet current accommodation standards.

But the county council said while it was in favour of better facilities, it was concerned about the increased distances and costs patients may face in getting to the new units.

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