Profession becoming less focused on clients and more on paperwork

Social care professionals are becoming overwhelmed by paperwork at the expense of working with service users, a Community Care survey has revealed.

The survey of some 2,200 professionals finds more than half spend at least 60 per cent of their time on administrative work as opposed to direct client contact. More than one-fifth spend at least 80 per cent of their time on paperwork and only 15 per cent spend less than 40 per cent of their time on administration.

And the problem is getting worse, with 95 per cent agreeing that social work has become more bureaucratic and less client-focused over the past five years.

Problems included staff shortages, “the plethora of new initiatives and policies”, duplication of information, compilation of performance data, inadequate IT systems and government reporting requirements for ring-fenced funding.

Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “It’s quite hard to understand the amount of time spent on admin. It’s a system out of control.”

He blamed a lack of trust in staff, leading to the creation of “systems to ensure the work gets done”, which left social workers with less time to work with clients.

Johnston added: “When we get extra resources we don’t seem to be able to translate them into workers spending more time with clients.”

Cutting bureaucracy is seen as more important than increasing pay among practitioners’ top workforce priorities. Nearly 80 per cent said reducing administrative burdens should be a priority for the current government workforce review, Options for Excellence, with less than 65 per cent citing increased pay, and just under 60 per cent improved training and better management.

Worryingly for the Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills, just 29 per cent of respondents were aware of Options for Excellence, which was announced in July by care services minister Liam Byrne.

The volume of paperwork, among other things, has left about 90 per cent of practitioners working longer than their weekly contracted hours, with 40 per cent working more than five hours extra a week.

There is backing for ideas, being considered as part of Options for Excellence, for more social work assistants to be hired to take over administrative tasks, with nearly 80 per cent supporting this.

But a failure to improve the situation could result in many social workers leaving to become self-employed practitioners, an option being considered by 57 per cent of respondents. Of these, 80 per cent cited more client focus and 65 per cent less bureaucracy as reasons for a switch.

More encouragingly, two-thirds plan to stay in social care for at least five years and more than 40 per cent for at least 10 years.

The Commission for Social Care Inspection defended the need for reporting systems in the sector.

Paul Snell, business director for inspection, regulation and review, said: “Excessive bureaucracy is a burden on any business. However, properrecords and management systems are vital to the delivery of good care services.”

The Department of Health said its care services efficiency delivery programme designed to eke out 684m savings from adult social care from 2005 to 2008 would help councils increase contact between front-line staff and users.

Options for Excellence will produce a report next spring designed to influence the 2007 spending review, before producing a programme for long-term workforce reform next autumn. However, sources close to the review say the government is keen to find solutions to workforce problems within existing spending constraints, though it has not closed its mind to increasing resources.

Professions pie chart

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