by Blair McPherson
“You shouldn’t do this job too long because you get used to things you shouldn’t get used to.”
These words were said by Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, in an interview for the Guardian. But it could just as easily have been a social worker working in child protection.
Indeed, it could have been a junior doctor or nurse after another long Saturday night in A&E, a fire officer cutting the teenage bodies out of the wreckage of a car crash or a paramedic crew attending another drugs overdose. It could have been police investigating a paedophile ring, an inspector uncovering systematic abuse in a care home or a whistleblower on the ill-treatment of people with a learning disability.
Mr Hardwick spoke of gradually becoming desensitised to issues which should have outraged him. Continued exposure meant they no longer shocked him. On prison visits he caught himself thinking: “Oh well, they have only had two suicides since we were last here, good.”
So should there be a limit on what you’re exposed to? Should child protection social workers be moved to another area of social work before they become desensitised to issues like sexual abuse? Should those in crisis intervention teams transfer to other areas of mental health work before they start to accept a certain level of suicides as unfortunate rather than unacceptable? How do we ensure that senior managers in adult social care don’t become desensitised to older people lying in urine-soaked beds for want of timely assistance?
I recall an otherwise kind and committed team manager telling a case conference that the alert but very frail older person they were discussing would simply have to move her bed downstairs into her front room and have a commode placed there. A practical solution to being no longer able to climb the stairs, but one that seemed to accept a miserable and degrading situation (or did you read this and think, that’s not so bad?).
Many of the cuts to residential care budgets, reductions in individuals’ home care hours, lowering of personal care budgets, or revised and tighter eligibility criteria, result in miserable and degrading situations.
Do those who agree these cuts lack imagination and empathy, or have they simply become desensitised? Is it now so common place for an older person to be padded up and obliged to soil themselves because we can’t provide sufficient visits that we no longer feel outraged at this situation? It’s shocking, but it’s difficult to keep the outrage going.
How many social workers, home carers, team managers and senior managers would admit that they’re shocked that they’re not shocked?
Blair McPherson is an ex-social worker, former director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk.