The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) helped to launch a multi-professional initiative to protect care workers from mental health issues triggered by work stresses.
Action for Care-worker Wellbeing (ACW) has brought together a group of UK caring professions in social work and the NHS to provide a forum for exploring solutions to the increasing cases of stress, burn-out and mental and physical illness within the sectors.
Launched on World Mental Health Day 2018 yesterday, the objectives of the group include leading public debate about how wellbeing issues affect professionals, identifying common problems faced within the care force and campaigning for supportive fitness to practice regulations.
‘Extreme emotional labour’
BASW CEO Ruth Allen said at the launch of ACW in London that care workers needed greater support to provide the very best services in “the most austere of times”.
“We all know that the matter of workplace, wellbeing and good mental health is complex in any area of work. In health and care services, colleagues must maintain resilience while carrying out sometimes extreme emotional labour.
“A resilient, long-serving and well supported public sector is essential for a civil compassionate society and it’s extraordinary in a way that we need to restate this.”
Allen added that the health and social care workforce needed to “stand together for [its] own needs”.
“This forum will provide a unique context for the workforce to collate evidence, raise awareness, initiate and lead debates; and define the safety and professional standards relating to care workers well-being.”
Stress and burnout
Within the social care sector alone, there are concerns around high vacancy and turnover rates, caused by stress and burnout. Between 2016-17, National Audit Office (NAO) statistics estimated there was a 27.8% turnover of staff and a 6.6% vacancy rate within social care.
The NAO said this could “disrupt the continuity and quality of care” for service users and incur providers with regular recruitment and induction costs.”
Meanwhile a recent BASW supported study found high levels of stress, presenteeism and adverse working conditions in social work.
Despite increasing issues surround the wellbeing of social workers, there has been no coordinated central government policy to mitigate these issues. With the launch of ACW, BASW and other organisations, like the Royal College of Psychiatrists, hope the initiative will help employees feel safe in sharing their mental illness.
‘Vulnerable and powerless’
Former social worker Mike Bush was instrumental in establishing ACW after campaigning on the issue for several years following his own work-related mental breakdown.
Speaking to Community Care, Bush said: “I was in social work for forty odd years and, during that time, had a horrendously bad breakdown. I learnt more than words can express about how it is to be so vulnerable and powerless. So, I’m acutely aware of why it’s important that [people] on the providing end get care as well as those on the receiving end.”
Bush realised he was not alone in feeling the pressure and stress of work. This inspired him to campaign for the creation of an inter-disciplinary national network to help people in the same situation as him.
“If you’ve got a well, happy and supported team of workers, they are going to be more productive and more effective. It’s not rocket science to work out that, if you’re happy in your work and feel supported and valued, you’re going to provide a better quality of care to people you are working for.
“Now, to do that, we have to look after the people who are providing that care and we’re not at the moment – not by a long stretch.”
Forming an alliance
Bush spoke about the importance of the social care and health sector joining forces to combat mental health issues in the workplace.
“The whole point of this is that we have got far more collective strength together, if we are a collective group and we are all saying this is a problem in all our professions, it puts us in a much stronger bargaining position going forward.”
Of the salient aim of the ACW, Bush added: “[Our] number one [goal] is changing workplace cultures to be much more mentally healthy and supportive, looking at how we can work in work places and how we can develop regional hubs and take things forward.”
If you would like further information about ACW please contact Godfred Boahen at Godfred.firstname.lastname@example.org