Blog post updated 20 July 2015
We can talk endlessly about the need for more effective integration of health and social care services and wax lyrical about our collective wish for better health outcomes, but sometimes it’s just better to get on and do it.
Greater Manchester’s decision to pool its health and social care budget, devolving responsibility to the region’s councils and health bodies was a surprising but - from my perspective - very welcome move. It was a bold strategic decision to hasten this breaking down of barriers between hospitals, community and social services. It also provided interesting context for my recent visit to Manchester Adult Social Care Services and the Mental Health and Social Care Trust.
I was in the city to speak with social workers, find out more about the challenges they face in their localities, and to offer my advice and insight into national social work issues. Not surprisingly, social work and mental health issues often intersect in high pressured urban environments. Drug and alcohol misuse are often more prevalent in big cities. Mental health services need to make sure they understand these issues within a biological, psychological and social model – not just from a clinical standpoint. In this respect, the Trust seems to have a good understanding of the social model which includes recovery, community inclusion and independence, rather than a single focus on causation and treatment pathways. This was really positive to see.
I also met with managers and social workers within the local authority. As well as implementing the Care Act they are also preparing for their roles in ‘Devo Manc’ arrangements. The Principal Social Worker and others here are working hard to ensure excellent social work practice is the basis for working alongside people, their carers and other agencies to ensure they can achieve the lives they want for themselves. They will do this by getting the best out of the resources and opportunities available.
The nurse manager of one of the integrated teams I met summed it up when she said social workers bring a wide angle lens to the team’s understanding and engagement with the people and families we work with and a better rights and strengths based approach to supporting people to get best outcomes.
It was gratifying to be able to discuss the role of social work in mental health but also more generally in adult social care, and to re-emphasise my commitment to improving the range and quality of education and training for new and existing social workers. This was an especially important message considering the recent news of the closure of the College of Social Work, the work of which I and others in the sector will continue to build on.
This was also a hot topic at the national joint Principal Social Workers (PSW) Conference last week, with many asking how the PSW network would be supported in the future and also how the professional voice for social work would be heard. There is much to be done to fill this gap and hopefully social workers in practice will be a driving force in taking things forward.
160 PSWs attended and I continue to be heartened by their drive and passion for improving standards and practice. I am equally impressed by their coproduction and personalising approach to social work with adults which is being driven in each of their local authorities.
Ray James, President of ADASS joined myself and Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families on the panel and it was reassuring for PSWs to hear ADASS's commitment to social work. The focus on social work practice that the Care Act and Mental Capacity Act have brought to working with adults gives us a real opportunity to ensure we can really make a difference to people’s lives.