It was with considerable shock that I learnt that the MSc in Mental Health Social Work programme at the Institute of Psychiatry will close in September 2013 and will not be accepting any new students from September 2012. This decision was taken without any reference to members of the Programme Committee, to partner Agencies or to the General Social Care Council.
I have been involved with the programme since 1996 working with the then course director Alan Rushton to accredit the programme within the Post Qualifying (PQ) framework. I was subsequently invited to join the Programme Committee. It was always evident that the course team recognised the importance of ensuring that they were able to demonstrate to students and employers that the skills and knowledge gained would benefit service users, the social work profession and the mental health community.
I find it difficult to believe how a decision of such magnitude (the end of social work education at the Institute of Psychiatry after over thirty years) could have been made without informed consultation or accountability to, internal and external stakeholders. I wonder if this system of educational governance is common within all universities.
It appears that a decision was made that a new MSc Global Mental Health would be a better use of the HEFCE places which currently support the social work programme. As a member of the Programme Committee I have not been provided with a rationale as to why the course is closing and there has been no explanation of the absence of a proper consultation process. When the importance of inter professional collaboration is being emphasised by government policy it is difficult to understand why the Institute of Psychiatry considers that social work education is no longer a priority.
The MSc Mental Health Social Work programme has, over many years, developed a well deserved reputation for its academic and practice excellence and attracts students from across the UK. The need for such a programme at this time remains critical, given all the legislative changes surrounding the practice of social work, in adult, children’s and adolescent mental health.
The former external examiner Professor Eileen Munro consistently praised the high standards of the programme and its method of developing advanced practitioners in social work. There are strong parallels between her recommendations for advanced practitioners and how the programme develops experienced practitioners informed by research and theory. The emphasis on developing quantitative research skills is important in promoting the evidence base for social work.
The programme has a real commitment to the meaningful involvement of service users and carers which has been cited by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and recognised by the General Social Care Council (GSCC) as good practice
The MSc in Mental Health Social Work uses an innovative form of assessment of advanced practice which provides case consultation followed bya practice viva panel incorporating users and carers which has now been adopted by other universities.
How will mental health care improve without confident, well trained and research minded social work practitioners? A sad day for social work when the Institute of Psychiatry, an internationally renowned centre of excellence for mental health research, no longer wishes to support the education and learning of advanced social work practitioners.
If you wish to express your concern about the closure of the MSc Mental Health Social Work programme please write to:
Professor Graham Thornicroft
Head of Health Service and Population Research Department
Institute of Psychiatry,
De Crespigny Park,
London SE5 8AF