Councils facing mental health officer shortages

New report reveals three-quarters of local authorities need more social workers to carry out mental health legislation duties

Wednesday 28th August 2019

Three-quarters of councils in Scotland need more mental health officers, with 55 full-time posts required to be filled to meet staffing shortages.

Concerns have also been raised over a ‘substantial increase’ in the numbers leaving the role in the past year and an ageing workforce.

The figures have been revealed in a new report published by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) on mental health officers (MHOs) – qualified social workers who have specialist training in mental health.

Shortfalls in MHO staffing can result in delays in patients accessing services, appropriate treatment and care and in being discharged from hospital.

Overall, there were 730 filled MHO posts in 2018 – the second highest on record, but down 1.7% from the previous year.

However all but eight of Scotland’s local authorities reported a shortfall, according to the report.

There was also a rise in the numbers of MHOs leaving the workforce, which nearly doubled from 6.3% in 2017 to 11.9% in 2018. The biggest reason for leaving was resignation, followed by retirals.

Last year 38% of staff were aged over 55, compared to 32% in 2014.

The report notes the reasons for MHOs leaving are ‘not absolutely clear’ but adds increasing numbers of MHOs over the age of 60 indicates ‘there will be further losses from the workforce as these MHOs approach retirement over the next few years’.

But the number of social workers entering MHO training in 2018 was 63 – above the average of 52 over the last 10 years.

Lorraine Gray, chief executive of SSSC, said it was significant that more local authorities were reporting a shortfall of MHOs in 2018, compared to the previous year.

She added: “The report also shows an increasing proportion of MHOs are aged over 55, so we need to make sure that enough social workers are undertaking the MHO qualification, so we can address both the shortfall and future demand.

“It’s good to see in the report, however, there is an increasing number of MHOs aged under 40 so that should help with succession planning for the significant proportion of MHOs expected to retire over the next 10 years.

“Our MHO report contains key data about the workforce in Scotland to help local authorities, Scottish Government and others plan the future workforce.”