Introduction

Social workers are regarded as key members of multidisciplinary community mental health teams (CMHTs), delivering specialist support to people with severe and enduring mental illness. However the CMHT social worker role lacks clear specification, and empirical literature describing their work is largely dated. Recent reforms have compounded role ambiguity; for example, specialist social worker duties prescribed under 1980s legislation are now open to other disciplines. Further, despite a policy emphasis on giving service user perspectives a voice in service design, surprisingly little research has explored their preferences.

This research will explore the contribution and value of social workers in CMHTs, through three inter-dependent work packages. The first will explore the characteristics and experiences of CMHT service users supported by social workers, as compared to other CMHT practitioners, through a mix of case audit and postal survey research. The second will seek to understand social worker and other practitioner perspectives through focus groups and survey methods. Finally, the extent to which service users value different social worker functions will be the subject of a stated preference study (‘Best Worst Scaling’). The study will contrast differences between working-age and older adult services by exploiting existing data sources.