Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) and Policy Setting

08 May 2018

In 2015 DWP approached DTUS to advise of their intent to roll out the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programme in DWP offices.  Since that time the GEC has been monitoring progress and pressing for proper implementation.

The GEC recognises that mental illness is an extremely intricate condition which requires sensitive care and specialised treatment; further, mental health can quickly deteriorate due to work related pressures.  PCS made it clear to DWP that the MHFA initiative can be used as neither a sticking plaster for mental illness, nor to tick the duty of care box for mental health provision.  With this caveat the GEC gave support in principle to the programme, a clear expectation being placed on the employer to work to reduce the stresses and strains that can lead to mental health conditions.

DWP produced an initial Terms of Reference (ToR) which it was believed would underpin the MHFA process. The ToR was not fit for purpose and the training of MHFA’s was inadequate - this led to the GEC calling for an immediate halt to the programme, and the removal of the ToR.

The Rollback

Rather than a complete halt, as some MHFA were trained to the required standard, DWP agreed to rollback the programme and enter discussions with the unions; a pilot was also initiated in the North East to monitor the programme.

The GEC submitted motion A171 to 2017 Conference to set Group policy as follows:

  • To continue a dialogue with the employer to discuss the role of MHFA throughout the DWP
  • To request a review of the number of MHFA’s currently working in DWP and the purpose of their role
  • For the GEC to be part of any evaluation process for the role - including detail of any causes of mental health conditions that are identified as part of the process
  • To negotiate a formal framework for the role of MHFA, based on the Mental Health First Aid England model, ensuring proper accreditation is achieved and time is given to staff deployed in this role  

By August 2017 DWP had rolled the programme back, and following PCS pressure, completed a full audit of MHFA’s to find there were156 volunteers out in DWP offices. Many had received the required MHFA England accreditation, but not all - the GEC secured agreement that MHFA England training was now mandatory and there would be no person allowed to take up the position without the recognised qualification.

Group office did receive reports of offices running unofficial programmes and training courses, but following PCS’ quick intervention, DWP immediately addressed the situation - a halt was brought to each exercise until the volunteers had received the mandatory training.

Terms of Reference/Contract

Late 2017 DTUS became aware that a new ToR had been issued.  This raised concerns as there had been no consultation – a request was made for the unions to be immediately sighted, and again the document was found not fit for purpose.

Although labelled ‘ToR’ this was not a Terms of Reference, rather, it was a contract of terms for the MHFA which required a signature to agree to the MHFA taking responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

DTUS again asked for immediate removal of the document. As yet this has not been withdrawn.

Policy is Not Yet Agreed

MHFA currently sits under the umbrella of the DWP Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Strategy, due to Mental illness being a disabling condition.

There have been a number of D&I meetings wherein the unions have called for policy but this has not yet been agreed.

It is unfortunate that DWP have, however, uploaded a form of words to the intranet that gives some outline of the principle of MHFA’s in the workplace with no statement of support for, or protection of staff.

Further to this the latest Terms of Reference is still in circulation; we continue to demand its withdrawal.

Members must be given the support they will require should they choose to volunteer for the role, or require the service but until that is forthcoming, we ask branches to note the following:

  • The GEC are agreed in principle with the MHFA programme and will remain so provided DWP remain in dialogue with the Group and implement a fit for purpose policy
  • We do not as yet have an agreed policy
  • No member of staff should sign a contract or Terms of Reference agreement with the employer
  • All MHFA’s must be trained to the MHFA England/Scotland/Wales standard
  • The role is voluntary and line managers must allow time for members to attend training and engage in the role
  • Every volunteer has the right to leave the programme should they choose to
  • The onus is on the employer to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all staff – both the MHFA and those using the service

The role of the MHFA is to: 

  • Provide support to anyone with a mental health need
  • Provide reassurance, signpost colleagues to both DWP and external sources of support
  • Promote and raise awareness of mental health agenda within their local area
  • Advocate – to raise mental health awareness and help challenge any stigma attached to mental health

The GEC is in constant contact with DWP regarding this programme; should any branch encounter a problem then they must raise it immediately with PCS group oOffice in Leeds.


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