Hospital social work – a bureaucracy-free zone

With little paperwork and helpful multi-agency practitioners, life could hardly be better for hospital social worker Justin Wright. Molly Garboden spoke to him

With little paperwork and helpful multi-agency practitioners, life could hardly be better for hospital social worker Justin Wright. Molly Garboden spoke to him

Justin Wright is one of the happiest social workers around. He supports families face-to-face, has enough time to reflect on his tasks, and is multi-agency colleagues are accessible and willing to help. On top of this, he spends almost no time filling in forms or balancing budgets.

What’s his secret?

He works as a social worker in the paediatric unit at Royal Hampshire County Hospital. The hospital created Wright’s role after analysing a survey of families who went through the paediatric unit.

“They looked at who the families spoke to and where they got their support,” said Wright. “The hospital also talked to staff and realised a lot of their team’s nursing time was taken up with the social needs of families. Having an experienced social worker on site frees up the medical professionals.”

Although Wright works alongside and with the local authority, he is not a frontline social worker employed by it.

On the health side

“My manager is a community children’s matron so she comes from the health side of things,” he says. “I’m also supervised from a social work standpoint by a manager of the children with disabilities team in Hampshire. Between the two, my role joins up very well.

“I can keep the hospital staff aware of legislation in social care and they keep me informed about what impact medical conditions in young people will have on their lives and families. Also, although I’m not here specifically for safeguarding, I can still step in and help with that.”

In the worlds of multi-agency working and preventive services, Wright (pictured above) says his ability to be the bridge between health and social care has been invaluable.

“It’s a very modern role,” he says. “The team thought about what they needed and filled in the gaps accordingly. It’s innovative and I know I’m in a privileged position.”

He says his role is particularly useful in helping those children who fall just below the thresholds for being taken into care.

Think creatively

“Working in children’s services, you become pretty disillusioned by the bureaucracy and budgets side of things,” he says. “I have no budget now, which sounds bad, but it means I get to think creatively on my feet about how I can support these families. I take on their needs and challenge those in local authority positions who should be providing support but aren’t. It’s what I would call traditional social work – it’s what I went into the sector to do.”

The only frustration is the limitations placed on other agencies.

“Some have their hands tied and can’t move as quickly as I would want them to,” Wright says. “That’s not always their fault – I know what they’re up against – but it can definitely be frustrating. For example, if I know a family needs a place to live when they get out of hospital and there just isn’t anywhere available, that can be hard.”

The Wright choice of career

Before joining the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Wright was a children’s child protection social worker at Hampshire Council for seven years.

Before that, he worked with young people with severe learning disabilities and also spent some time working in private sector residential care.

The Winchester and Eastleigh NHS trust received funding for Wright’s post through the Transforming Community Services scheme. The role was created to address the social needs of children with complex health care issues, such as cystic fibrosis and type-1 diabetes, and their families.

Wright also supports children with terminal illnesses and helps their families plan their end-of-life care.

Published in 8 July 2010 issue of Community Care under the heading ‘Happy Days’

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