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Top graduates and career-changers sought to “shape the future of mental health care”

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The government will today launch a new fast-track scheme to recruit and train top graduates and career-changers to become mental health social workers. Speaking at an event in London attended by leading figures in health and social care, Minister Norman Lamb will announce £1.6m in funding for the ThinkAhead programme, which he says offers Britain’s most talented people the chance to shape the future of mental health care.
 
With one in four people now likely to experience a mental health problem during their lives, the NHS and local councils are facing an ever-increasing demand for mental health services. A third of families include someone with a mental illness, and mental health is now one of the most common reasons for visits to GPs. As well as straining mental health services this is placing a growing pressure on hospitals and other part of the NHS, as mental health problems often lead to physical ill-health.
 
In its first year Think Ahead aims to attract 80 to 100 top recruits into mental health social work roles, where they will improve care and develop new ways for social workers to operate in mental health services. Social work has not traditionally been seen as a high-status career choice: in 2011/12 less than 10% of the intake to social work master’s degrees came from the highly selective Russell Group of universities.
 
The intensive two-year programme emphasises on-the-job experience and, in contrast with conventional routes into social work, will put successful applicants into frontline roles almost immediately. Participants will be paid from the outset, and will receive leadership training and gain both a post-graduate diploma and a master’s degree in social work. Candidates need at least a 2.1 degree, but will also be required to demonstrate their suitability for a job requiring emotional intelligence, good judgement, and resilience.
 
Think Ahead opens for applications in September, and interested candidates can already register online.
 
Speaking ahead of the programme’s launch, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said:
“I want to build a fairer society with better mental health care for everyone – that’s why we’re investing £1.6 million to produce a new wave of expert social workers.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for some of our most talented people to help shape the future of mental health care by supporting individuals, improving community services, and reducing pressure on the NHS.”
 
Frances Turner, Cambridge graduate and senior social worker in mental health services, said:
“I couldn’t have chosen a more fulfilling career than social work. It’s a privilege to spend my days supporting an incredible variety of people in all sorts of ways, instead of sitting behind a desk.
“I’ve been able to put into practice my values and what I learnt at university – from communicating effectively under pressure, to building relationships, to working with complex legislation and ensuring people’s rights are upheld. I’m excited that Think Ahead is going to make more people aware that social work is a hugely rewarding career option.”
 
Think Ahead’s Chief Executive, Ella Joseph, said:
“Think Ahead offers a prestigious new fast-track route into a profession where you can make a genuine difference.

“We’re looking for people with a rare blend of attributes including intelligence, but as importantly empathy, compassion, and resilience. If you can demonstrate those qualities, we’ll support you to get a master’s degree while you train and work in a fulfilling, paid role.”
 
Dr Ruth Allen, Chair of the Mental Health Faculty of the College of Social Work, said:

“Think Ahead’s purpose is to improve people’s experiences of using mental health services, and to develop the impact of the mental health social work profession.

 “Think Ahead will boost the visibility and voice of mental health social work, promoting our expertise in social interventions, our leadership of practice, and our innovation.”

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