AMHP training – What it is and How it is – A Review by the GSCC

Law books 1

The GSCC published a report yesterday (pdf)  which is a a review of their inspections of AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional) courses. My experience of my training as an Approved Social Worker (as it was when I trained) is that, without doubt, it was the highest quality training course I have ever undertaken. It was tough. Very tough. But it needs to be. The role of making such important decisions which affect the liberty of those who are in moments of need, illness and distress is not something which can be glossed over.

In some ways, I’m surprised there isn’t an equivalent, high quality, intellectually rigorous post-qualification course in children’s services before social workers are able to remove children – maybe it would be too costly – but it’s an interesting reflection on the ways in which the different ‘streams’ in social work have progressed.

The report reflects on the GSCC role in approving AMHP training, despite the fact that the training is no longer restricted solely to Social Workers (Psychiatric Nurses, Occupational Therapists and Clinical Psychologists are also able to train up to this role).

There are some interesting tidbits in the summary that caught my attention. There are 22 AMHP courses running in England. Of those who have undertaken them (936 since 2008 when the switch from ASW to AMHP occurred) there have been 936 people who have completed the course. 84% of those completing the course have been social workers and 15% nurses (I’m presuming the overlap is down to some people who are dual trained – I’ve come across a few people who are both nurses and social workers). There have been no psychologists training (surprise) but there are some OTs ( I have personally met one OT AMHP) but it is given as <1%.

The gender breakdown is a 70% female to 30% male of those who have completed training. It would be interesting to compare this with the Social Work training as a whole.

So what are the courses like?

Recruitment is generally by employer sponsorship and some areas have been better at promoting cross professional access to the training than others. There have been issues regarding payments and increments which more often than not have affected whether a nurse or a social worker might be put forward by employers to train but the universities have been willing to accept applications across the eligible professions.

There are very low ‘fail’ rates, possibly due to the selection which would take place in-house before a candidate is interviewed by the university.

Content I’ve had a few people ask ‘how long’ the training to be an AMHP is and explain how it was in the course I did but different courses manage the learning in different ways. For example, I did a full time course. The actual requirements are 600 hours of study with at least 150 of those hours as taught. It is delivered at ‘Masters’ level – but usually needs a ‘top up’ of other modules (which may or may not be offered’ to make a ‘full’ Masters degree.

The emphasis on knowledge of mental health law was considered in the report as it is fundamental to being an AMHP. Universities assess this knowledge in different ways, between exams – either open or closed book – case studies or classroom work.  As an AMHP it is necessary to continue to attend legal updates regularly.

Training in safeguarding legislation as it pertains to children and adults also has to form a part of the course.  This may be a precondition to attending the course – ensuring that this training has been undertaken ‘in house’. It’s also important that Mental Capacity, Equality and Human Rights legislation is covered.

It is also a requirement that social perspectives on mental distress is covered sufficiently.  Indeed, the report comments that while

Traditionally social workers have been viewed within mental health services as the champions of the social perspective model of mental distress

This has needed to be covered extensively in the AMHP training as other professions are being drawn in. Interesting perspective though when you consider the move in some areas to shifting social workers OUT of mental health teams and what that might mean.

But back onto the topic at hand.

User/Carer Involvement in Courses This was an area I felt was strong and particularly useful in the course I undertook. I think it is also worth noting that social workers can be users and carers of mental health services too and certainly the course I was on some people attending the training self-identified as such which was really very useful for us to gain these perspectives.  Formally though, 20 out of 22 courses met the requirement for involving users and carers in the training of AMHPs.

Universities used different models from commissioning teaching directly to drawing on a pool of identified users and carers to participate or commissioning a local user network to be involved in course planning and assessment.  Only half the courses involved users on the selection panels. I was surprised this wasn’t higher.

Being Approved The ‘approved’ part of the name comes back with the Local Authority when the course is completed and we would go our separate ways. Different local authorities have different ways of approving but it is always for a maximum of five years before re-approval is necessary.  Most graduates were approved within three months of finishing the course – that was the case within  my LA where I was expected to conduct a specific number of assessments with an experienced AMHP and then come to a panel with my reflections and face another legal test before being approved. However some LAs will approve more quickly than others.

Practice Assessors – AMHP candidates are ‘on placement’ and have a supervisor who themselves, are an AMHP. Few courses require any qualification from their Practice Assessors (other than. of course, being an AMHP themselves). I’ve never taken this role on specifically for AMHP training but it’s something I’m vaguely interested in doing at some point. Interestingly the GSCC acknowledge that these roles of ‘practice assessors’ may be underappreciated by the universities and the GSCC is recommending that some of the ‘Practice Educator’ standards for Social Workers extend into AMHP training.

The report makes interesting reading for anyone who is curious about the AMHP role and what the training actually involves. Reading it made me reflect both on my role as an AMHP and the training I undertook and continue to undertake to carry out the role to the best of my ability.

Actually, it made me quite proud. I know I’m biased but it is a rigorous system but it was the best training I ever did. It’s not a role I’d say I like or enjoy but it is something I feel I can do with sensitivity, thought and care.

There is a strange kind of ‘camaraderie’ among AMHPs that I’ve not experienced in any other situation. Possibly because it’s so hard to explain to other people what we do and how and why we do it.

photo Eric E Johnson Flickr