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Social workers

Social work is an important profession within mental health services, working across local authorities, health services, the independent and voluntary services. Social Work is regulated by Social Work England.


In mental health services, social workers often undertake intensive post-qualifying training to hold roles linked to the Mental Health Act 1983 or Mental Capacity Act, such as Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP), Best Interest Assessor and Non-Medical Approved/Responsible Clinician (AC/RC).

Social workers comprise 95 per cent of the 3,750 Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHPs), but less than five of the non-medical approved clinicians come from a social work background. It was recommended the inclusion of social workers as a core part of HEE’s mental health workforce plan as a key lever to achieving NHS Long Term Plan ambitions and to alleviate workforce pressure across the sector. We are also exploring the possibility of expanding this workforce using Higher Education Institute pathways, apprenticeships and fast-track models in specialist roles.

Our current delivery

Developing a Social Supervision Quality Framework and training

HEE has commissioned a new project to develop a Social Supervision Quality Framework, training materials and tools for social supervisors and their line managers aligned with the Mental Health Casework Section (MHCS) guidance.

The Framework and resources will better support social supervisors and clinical supervisors who must submit regular progress reports to the MHCS for previously detained patients who remain liable for recall to hospital from the community as part of their conditional discharge. Detained patients are usually treated in secure hospitals under Section 37/41 Mental Health Act and will be given gradual access to the community as part of their rehabilitation only when it is safe to do so.

The key project activities will be to:   

  • engage with key stakeholder organisations across health and social care settings and restricted patient systems to ensure continuous improvements and shared learning 
  • co-produce and develop training resources informed by quality evidence-base, including the perspectives and needs of patients, service users and carers
  • develop organisational self-assessment and management tools, assurance mechanisms for effective local policies
  • commission material from academic specialists to support social supervisors

 Organisations that have committed to supporting this project include:

  • Mental Health Social Work Lead, Office of the Chief Social Worker at the Department of Health & Social Care 
  • Health Education England
  • MHCS 
  • National Association of Directors of Adult Social Services Forensic Network 
  • West London NHS Trust

Get involved:

The project team is seeking to involve mental health providers across health and social care settings in the project. To get involved with the project, contact David Cochrane, Head of Forensic Social Work, West London NHS Trust: Socialsupervision.Project@westlondon.nhs.uk


Partners in practice approach 

In 2019, the mental health social work workstream undertook many activities to establish stakeholder engagement and promote partnership working.  

For the next phase, we will lead a Partners in Practice approach by working with NHS social work professional leads and their regional stakeholders to show how mental health social workers can assist new ways of working to deliver improved care.  

We hope to build this as a community of practice that engages all organisations interested in working differently with their workforce. To find out more, contact mentalhealth@nhs.nhs.uk


Upskilling social workers in practice supervision 

We want to ensure mental health social workers practice at their highest capabilities resulting in sustaining their identity in challenging cultures and addressing professional identity, creativity and wellbeing.  

HEE has invested in a practice supervision programme to help build the foundations across the 7 regions in England. The programme will improve the foundations for social work and ensure they are a central part of the transformation.  

This upskilling initiative aims to reinforce the importance of the NHS building this workforce capacity and establishing robust supervisory arrangements for its social work staff, whatever role they are in. The programme reflects the requirements of the post-qualifying standards for practice supervisors and will complement the wealth of existing continuous professional development activity. 


Development programme for the mental health social work role in trauma-informed practice  

The development programme for the mental health social work role in trauma-informed practice builds on the 2019 scoping exercise. The findings highlighted inconsistent access to suitable training to develop their skills and knowledge on trauma-informed practice.   

A professional support programme is now exploring the value of a trauma-informed lens to social workers' practice. The programme will link to HEE's upcoming e-learning trauma awareness modules.   

The programme will ensure mental health social workers can:  

  • be confident in their profession's contribution to trauma-informed care  

  • act in scope and foster their ability to lead practice in teams    

  • implement trauma-informed principles to strengths-based practice   

  • deliver trauma-aware conversations in assessment and care/support planning.    

  • understand the role and scope of social work, e.g., boundaries between social work and psychological therapies   

  • support other's practice, e.g., peer support workers and social care    

  • prioritize self-care and understand the emotional impact of the work  

  • be trauma-informed in specific roles, e.g., AMHP   

  • acknowledge intersectionality and work in a culturally competent way   

  • lead and build trauma-informed teams and organisations 


Our work

The below provides the details of work we have achieved with our partners:


Transforming mental health social work report 

HEE has launched an interactive report, Transforming Mental Health Social Work, about the role and development of mental health social work; capturing the key themes and learning from two major conferences held earlier this year. The report includes links to short videos with key speakers, who are senior leaders in health and social care in England.

The conferences, held in Leeds and London, were organised and hosted by HEE and Skills for Care and showcased the work of the HEE New Roles in Mental Health group. This included previews of the resources, toolkits and guidance in development. Delegates were invited to comment and feed back on the drafts. Their feedback has been used to inform this final version.

HEE commissioned 11 videos centered on real-life experience of specialists in the social work field. See the video playlist.

Guidance on the support of mental health social workers working in NHS, independent or integrated services

This guidance is designed to support all agencies that employ social workers. It has been produced to sit alongside the Local Government Association’s employers’ guidance and give detailed advice and support to develop the social work role across all mental health settings and organisations. It is based on the learning from the ‘social work for better mental health’ programme, working across over 70 organisations, assessing and developing their integrated arrangements. It has been updated to reflect the contribution which social work can make to mental health services during the Covid-19 epidemic. If you would like this document in another format please email mentalhealth@hee.nhs.uk.

Expanding and enhancing the role of the mental health social worker

In this film, Mark Trewin, describes the important role mental health social workers and Approved Mental Health Professionals play in services. Working across the NHS, local authorities, voluntary and independent sectors, these roles ensure that the social model of mental health is at the core of our integrated services. The new roles work of Mark’s group focuses on expanding and enhancing the role of the mental health social worker, and providing support and guidance to NHS and other organisations on how best to recruit, retain and develop this key workforce.

Forensic services are a specialist part of mental health services supporting people who have higher levels of risk or detention in secure care or within the criminal justice system. The Health Education England ‘New Roles in Mental Health’ social work group has been exploring in detail the expertise of social workers working in forensic mental health and how we can support them to undertake this important role. We commissioned our colleague Jacob Daly, Senior Mental Health Social Worker, to undertake this forensic social work report and to explore any possible recommendations or developments that can support the development of social work within forensic services. 

This toolkit supports the National Workforce Plan for Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) and forms part of the resources commissioned and developed by HEE’s New Roles in Mental Health Social Work Group. Following the publication of the Workforce Plan, Social Work for Better Mental Health developed guidance supporting the AMHP Service Standards and tested it in some local authorities. The accompanying toolkit aims to guide local authorities and others in using the standards.