Social worker one of two employees at council to die after contracting Covid-19

Leader of Southwark council reveals that a member of the authority's street cleaning team also lost their life after being infected with coronavirus

Image of coronavirus (credit: Romolo Tavani / Adobe Stock)
(credit: Romolo Tavani / Adobe Stock)

A social worker at a London borough has died after being infected with coronavirus, the local authority’s leader said today.

Southwark council’s Peter John, a Labour councillor, wrote on Twitter that two employees had lost their lives having contracted the disease, which has now been associated with 1,789 deaths in the UK.

“So sad to learn that we have now lost two @lb_southwark employees to Covid-19 – one of our dedicated street cleaning team and a social worker,” John said. “My thoughts are with them and their loved ones at this awful time.”

In a statement expanding on his social media comments, John said: “Sadly the large number of tragic deaths that are expected nationally from Covid-19 means that all of us will know someone who has been touched by tragedy and loss by the time this is over.

“In Southwark we were devastated this week to learn that two colleagues have lost their lives to Covid-19,” John added. “We are in touch with their families and are supporting staff at this difficult time.”

John urged members of the public to stay at home and away from other people in order to combat the spread of the virus.

Southwark council did not release any further information about the employees who died or whether they were likely to have contracted Covid-19 due to their job roles.

Many social workers have expressed fears about their ability to do their jobs safely in a context of a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), which are so severe as to be affecting healthcare professionals on the frontline of treating patients with Covid-19.

Last week Ruth Allen, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said a lack of national protocols for safe working had left the social work sector “playing catch-up” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

A statement issued by BASW in response to the news of the deaths in Southwark said: “We would like to send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the two people who have lost their lives in these awful circumstances.”

It added: “We will also continue our efforts to lobby for all social workers on the frontline delivering support to communities across the country to get the vital personal protective equipment they need, so they can better protected and in-turn, protect the vulnerable people they serve.”

There are widespread concerns that the lack of PPE could have a huge impact on the wider social care sector as the UK epidemic reaches its peak over the next few weeks, with many councils issuing call-outs for people to join the workforce in order to keep crucial services running should large numbers of staff be sick or self-isolating.

Local authorities have also warned that other frontline workers, including street cleaning teams, are being exposed to unacceptable risks while doing their jobs.

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28 Responses to Social worker one of two employees at council to die after contracting Covid-19

  1. Sarah April 1, 2020 at 11:15 am #

    This is absolutely shocking and upsetting to hear that a Social worker for a Local Authority that I work for has passed away. It is disheartening being a social worker or a worker in the care sector during times like this. As social workers we are still encouraged to take risks such as home visits to vulnerable families, undertake placement moves, going into the office in order to continue to meet report deadlines. We are doing this at the expense of our own health; with no PPE being provided to us during home visits. Furthermore, for those that cannot work from home because they don’t have the resources they have been told to go to the office thus putting them further at risk as there are barely any antiseptic wipes or spray, and they have to sit in a closed office where social distance has little effect!

    It is saddening that there is little regard for our welfare and whilst we are doing our job of caring for others and trying to protect them during this crisis, little is being done to safeguard us in the field. In fact in my view, it appears that the lives of others come before the life of a social worker.

    I enjoy my job but this has been an eye opener and I can confidently state that I will be another social worker leaving the sector VERY soon. I hate to be a pessimist but my health and mental state take priority and it will always be business as usual in social work where those at the top of the hierarchy give little care to our safety and well-being. How many more social workers will lose their life before appropriate action is taken? Better guidance around health and safety is required! Also, there needs to be less pressure on social workers about deadlines as we are all anxious and overwhelmed with the pandemic which is impacting our work. The government needs to do more to support us.

    P.S: To every social worker out there, you are AMAZING! keep yourself safe during this unprecedented time and save a little for yourself.


    • Melon79 April 3, 2020 at 4:09 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • Anne-Marie April 3, 2020 at 6:45 pm #

      Yes, this is really sad news. I can’t comment on the circumstances as I am nlt privy to them

      What I can say though is that in most cases I have experienced, managment from top to bottom in both the NHS an LA’s is sadly wanting. I do not often mention duty of care as it is a much overused and misunderstood term. In the current climate however duty of care is a wholly appropriate term to use because the whole managment structure in.most if not all managment structures from front line managment teams up to government are all neglecting their duty of care for front line health and social care practitioners and support workers. When this sorry episode is over and Covid-19 has passed.I hope the incompetent bods get their backsides sued off – tort doctrine of negligence ( dugy of care).

    • Amanda April 4, 2020 at 10:37 am #

      Absolutely couldn’t put it better!

    • John D April 12, 2020 at 12:32 pm #

      I totally agree, I’m a social worker and feel that we are being ignored and not given a second thought. Managing the situation in the community is impossible and don’t even get me started on the non-importance of deaths in the community and care homes in accordance to the government figures. It’s not all about the NHS, it’s also about the community care agencies, private personal assistants, care home staff, district nurses, community occupational therapists, community care officers and social workers (I could go on). The lack of support and guidance is poor and the lack of recognition is even worse, staff moral is low and social care is on its knees.

  2. Benita. Meli April 1, 2020 at 11:20 am #

    I am sorry to hear this sad news.
    And would like to say Thank you for the services that you are still providing to southwark communities.

  3. Michelle Snuder April 1, 2020 at 12:17 pm #

    May God bless all !

  4. Steve Williams April 1, 2020 at 2:40 pm #

    We have no protection no gloves no mask nothing to keep her hands clean they did not isolate us we have to work with different people it is now becoming Russian Roulette

    • Emma Thompson April 2, 2020 at 7:50 pm #

      My mother is a community nurse, works long hours and does many home visits a day. She has been forced to go into homes of people that think they may have the Corona virus, to give them their diabetes insulin etc.. she has been without the needed PPE and now has contracted the Corona virus. To make matters worse her pay is so low, she is unable to fix her broken boiler and is without heating, so must sleep on her sofa round the fireplace to keep warm. It’s terrible that a NHS nurse of 20 years, has to suffer alone at home with a fever and no heating, in a house that needs so much work.

      • Aruna April 4, 2020 at 8:21 am #

        Absolutely shocking. Look after her. Keep her safe. Hope she is one of the strong ones and makes it through. It is frightening times.??

      • Jules April 6, 2020 at 12:46 pm #

        This saddens me to read this. Your Mother is doing a vital and much needed job and it is disgusting she as has not been protected by her employers. I hope she gets well soon…. Social Worker, Southampton..

      • adeline tchana April 18, 2020 at 10:29 am #

        Oooh no. I wish all the best for you mum who is now paying the price of sacrificing for others.
        Hope she is well now.

  5. Nathalie Lee-Francis April 1, 2020 at 4:36 pm #

    I am so sorry this has happened to a colleague, but all social workers are at risk in this climate.

  6. Carol April 1, 2020 at 5:22 pm #

    Well the Department of Health and Social (don’t) Care, see all social workers as second class individuals, all we hear is about our brave NHS staff (which they are) but there are other sectors, like social workers, care workers etc all dealing with the same individuals and being placed at the same risk, which seems to have escaped Government officials as well as Local Authorities, seems Health and Safety at work legislation no longer applies!

    • Anne-Marie April 3, 2020 at 7:21 pm #

      Yes, the DoHSC could not give a monkey’s about any of us. They pay lip service to NHS workers – and as a mental health S/W employed by the NHS in a CMHT, I guess Im one of them. It is uber disturbing though to see nursing colleagues being asked to do depot injections, take bloods etc etc with the inadequate – when available, because it often isn’t available – ppe. And they ask, nay tell us to go onto hospital wards which have many cases of Covid-19. My response is No – not until you provide appropriate ppe. I’m not flavour of the month!!!

      The problem is, in many cases practitioners fold to managerial pressure. This is hardly surprising when our union is so weak and we are so poorly supported. I have seen numerous colleagues who, buckling under pressure and intense levels of stress have been threatened with their registration – bullying behaviour but managers get away with it. Then there’s the reason we – most of us anyway – came into the sector. We tend to have a social conscience and want to make a positive difference. Again, this ks often used against us as we are coherced into putting ourselves in harms way.

      Legislation like HASAWA and the duty of care (negligence) are just word until victims lime we tend to be stand up and bring action. Problem with this though is that we need support to do this and those who shluld be supporting us are all to often inept.

  7. Caron April 1, 2020 at 7:33 pm #

    This is very Sad Sarah, my council have been brilliant, perhaps a move not a career change. Sorry for your loss.

    • Bob April 1, 2020 at 8:30 pm #

      We have been offered no PPE at all in my team . Also told that we will not need any to do visit .

      • Anne-Marie April 3, 2020 at 7:23 pm #

        To.continue the governments war metaphor, you are canon fodder.

  8. Colin April 1, 2020 at 10:38 pm #

    We are not an emergency service however we may feel like it and however we are used. Each and everyone of us has a family to return to at teh end of the day. If our employees don’t value us enough to give PPE we should withdraw from the frontline. We give endless hours to this job, we give us relationships, we give up friendships and we are villified. I’ll be damned if I am giving up my life.

    • Anne-Marie April 3, 2020 at 7:26 pm #

      Yes Colin. I am in total agreement.

  9. Sabrina April 2, 2020 at 3:01 pm #

    It’s so sad your only thinking of the social workers how about the street cleaner doesn’t he have any importance they are always out there picking up everyone’s rubbish working long hours in their feet day in day out even night to provide us with a clean environment and no one is mentioning that person i am a social worker and I know it’s a tough job but don’t forget the other people who also out they’re lives at risk and have sadly passed .

    • Anne-Marie April 3, 2020 at 7:35 pm #

      No Sabrina. You could not be more wrong. Many if not all [of us] will be saddened by reports of each and every public service worker who falls victim to this horrible virus, let alone the sad deaths of each service users, their family members and fellow workers.

      What you do have to take into account though is that this is a social work forum. As such the primary attention of comments will – perhaps naturally – be pertaining to social work.

  10. Kemmie April 2, 2020 at 3:39 pm #

    I must confess the council I work for have been fantantic. They have given priorities to our safety and that of our service users . They have suspended all home and face to face visits and all assessments are done over the phone.

    Majority of social workers and other staff are now working from home. While a few people are working from the office and social distancing rules are strictly adhered to, even in our sitting arrangements.
    In my team we have regular supply of hand sanitizers and gloves are also made available (although we are not provided with face masks). In addition lunch is provided for those working in the office. Most importantly our handwork as frontline staff are acknowledged and applauded.
    We all know that this is a difficult time to be a social worker however some of the steps have helped to ameliorate current challenges.

    • Jules April 6, 2020 at 12:51 pm #

      Mine too – The Council I work for is very supportive and I couldn’t ask for me to be honest. I feel valued and protected. However, as I am discovering not all LAs are like this. Most of us are now working from home and the sharp end of the service (MASH etc) I believe are also supported…

      Please all take care…

  11. Marylyn Bakarr April 2, 2020 at 4:24 pm #

    Social and care worker’s input in society is under valued. I for one admire their stamina, courage and will power to do what they do. Very challenging job. They must be commended. Most importantly at this time they should be provided with the necessary resources to work effectively and efficiently. If not how can they render vital help to our vurnerable on society. We should publicly honour them as well.

  12. Franc April 3, 2020 at 7:47 pm #

    My heart sheds tears for the social work colleague from Southwark and to the family in mourning.

    Twenty five years plus in the helping arena, met some wonderful people; colleagues, bosses, and some people also in the same categories who are not so nice!

    We tread where police fear to tread, we go into dangerous situations often alone, (whereas police will only go accompanied by one, two and or plus), we are pushed, cajoled and threatened by management, we are allocated cases at the push of a button (not even a discussion with unrealistic timeframes), we visit families at the drop of a hat, (often not knowing the risks we are walking into).

    Now we are in a national crisis, we are directed to work from home (not everyone has internet), we are asked to work creatively, this may be ok for the more IT literate young worker, but who actually checks? my experience, no one!

    Be mindful, your job may be on the line!

    Yes we are frontline workers with no protection from Covid 19. Yes we are frontline workers with no protection from our colleagues, yes we are front line workers with no protection from work, yes we are frontline workers with no protection from management.

    What are we? I can think of a number of colourful words , but this is what I know!

    We are social workers who need protection!

    Would things have been different for our fallen colleague if protection were available! Let’s not tempt fate!

    In fact stop working until assurances are given, no stop working until we have the protection in our possession!

    Be alive, be safe, be well!

  13. James Applefore April 3, 2020 at 11:46 pm #

    Condolences to the family of our social worker colleague and our fellow worker street cleaner. We need to show solidarity to workers in all sectors not get tribal about our own profession. Give your anger to all those managers working from their homes while giving out their orders for us to remember how essential our home visits are. Remember their self interest while looking after each other and our fellow workers.

  14. Julie April 4, 2020 at 1:48 am #

    To my colleagues who have left comments, thank you. I am an NHS Social Worker and have been practically forced to review not only patients in A&E but on hospital wards too. In the last two weeks we had to enter wards with no PPE to assess people with mental health issues. On more than several occasions, I’ve had to challenge nurses about the status of their patients simple because it seems that they are not asking the patients the right questions such as where they have been in the last month, if they have travelled and have any symptoms, this happens daily in A&E simple because, they just refer to our Mental Health Team as soon as anxiety or depression is mentioned.

    After hearing the terrible sad news about two nurses loosing their lives, I have decided to self isolate, at home, having worked non-stop since this COVID-19 outbreak, i now feel unwell. I refuse to go back to work until they roll out this much talked about staff testing, every day they dangle this carrot in our faces… its just their way of keeping us hopeful and keeping us at work, clapping for us NHS staff is tokenistic and patronising. Staff testing is the first question I asked the Infection control nurse, when she came to talk to everyone- they had no concrete answers then and still don’t two weeks on. Sadly this demonstrate our worth value and wellbeing, which is low on their priorities.
    I take comfort that I am a member of a union and will seek advice from them if things get messy.

    No one wants to die prematurely through a highly contagoious virus, yet managers are pushing key keyworkers to the front line, telling brave people how to do our jobs, from the comfort of their homes. My advice for anyone scared or unsure STAY HOME TOO! No one will remember us when we are six feet under….