Brain Injury is the leading cause of death and disability in the UK for people aged 0-40 and diagnosed in 70% of head injuries. Each year 1.4 million people attend emergency departments in England and Wales (1 every 90 seconds) with a recent head injury and this comes at a cost of £15billion to the NHS. Brain Injury is not a respecter of person, it can happen to anyone irrespective of age, class or status. However, there is limited knowledge about this condition and very little is known about social care and support available for people with brain injury. Recent advancements in medical care have not sufficiently translated to social care support for people with brain injury. The Heads Together project seeks to better brain injury social work education.

In our Louder Than Words episode we discuss why brain injury social work should be a national conversation. Heads Together is a National Institute for Health and Care funded research collaboration across universities in the UK exploring brain injury social work education with a view to developing a central resource point for practice and ultimately improving outcomes for adults with brain injuries and their families. The project led by University of Essex Prof. Andrew Bateman is a collaboration with partner universities and leading experts including Dr Mark Holloway Consultant / Expert Witness, Dr Alyson Norman from Plymouth University, Dr, Mike Clark from London School of Economics, Dr. Andy Mantell, BISWG and Dr. Mark Linden from Queens University, Belfast. Other partners include the Brain Injury Social Work Group (BISWG) and Annie Ricketts from Global Brain Injury Alliance who has lived experience of brain injury.

The project is currently carrying out a systematic review of existing literature on brain injury related social work research to understand social work understanding of brain injury. A survey is being carried out with social work educators to gain an insight into current social work education of brain injury and also social workers are being interviewed to ascertain the level of understanding practitioners have of brain injury. The participants include newly qualified social workers, managers and specialist social workers. A key aspect of this project is the perspectives of people affected by brain injury including people with brain injury, their family members and carers, and the professionals who support them. All of these would inform the research which aims to improve social worker knowledge of brain injury and outcomes for people affected by this condition.

The project team is already contributing to policy and practice including contributing to UK Parliament POSTnotes on Innovation in Adult Social Care and Invisible Disabilities and also training in a local authority following the safeguarding adult review into death of a young man where a concerns about the social work knowledge gap in relation to brain injury was emphasized.

As social workers, we acknowledge the complexities in practice and challenges that may arise due to capricious nature of brain injury. These include carrying out mental capacity assessments for people with brain injury who may be affected by what the late Dr. Melanie George referred to as the ‘paradox of the frontal lobe’ where people do well in office-type assessment due to the scaffolding provided by the assessment process and agree to functionality that they are unable to carry out. However, it is imperative that our assessment processes and the support provided is brain injury specific otherwise people slip through the net and as seen in the safeguarding review, there can be serious consequences.

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Further reading

Find out more about Heads Together training

Improving the support network for people with brain injuries