Social work teams depleting due to coronavirus, warns BASW as it calls for priority testing for practitioners

Ability to assess infection among social workers urgently needed to keep statutory services running, says association chair

Image of Covid-19 coronavirus test (credit: jarun011 / Adobe Stock)
(credit: jarun011 / Adobe Stock)

Coronavirus testing for social workers is urgently needed as teams begin to shrink due to sickness and self-isolation, the chair of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has said.

Speaking to Community Care, Gerry Nosowska said that an ongoing survey being conducted by the organisation, which more than 1,500 practitioners have now completed, had recorded a change in emphasis over the past few days.

“The central issues are the same – social workers’ health and safety, getting out to people and providing the help they need, and the need for consistent national practice guidance,” Nosowska said. “But there’s been a shift in what survey shows, which is people going off sick or self-isolating.”

In an open letter sent yesterday to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, which Nosowska co-signed, the association called for social workers to be included in a list of priority groups for coronavirus testing.

“Many teams are depleted because colleagues need to self-isolate,” it said. “Vulnerable service users also need assurance that their social workers can visit them in their home without the risk of infection. Including social workers in the list for priority testing is thus essential for the provision of ongoing services.”

The past few days have seen a shift in attitude from the UK government, which has faced fierce criticism for an initially dismissive attitude towards the large-scale testing for Covid-19 that other countries have made available.

But to date even many frontline NHS staff remain unable to access tests, and ministers have struggled to explain in detail how testing may be ramped up. This week also saw the first reported death of a social worker who had contracted the virus.

‘Pandemic response will not work without social care’

Nosowska told Community Care that social workers responding to BASW’s survey were now reporting instances of there being too few staff left in their teams to adequately deliver statutory responsibilities.

Others raised anxieties about the potential they could be putting vulnerable people at risk, as well as their families and themselves, due to being infectious without realising it.

Testing would dispel unnecessary pressures on the workforce, and unnecessary risk-taking people may inadvertently be doing,” Nosowska said.

“Testing needs to be happening on the frontline so we know who has had coronavirus, and who might have it without realising,” she added, noting that this must be alongside making tests available for health and education staff.

“The response to the pandemic will not work without social care and we need social workers to be able to work – this is not optional, and it needs to happen as quickly as possible,” Nosowska said.

BASW’s letter also reiterated called for personal protective equipment (PPE) to be made available to social workers, along with guidance around its use.

Social workers in touch with Community Care this week have painted a mixed picture as to the accessibility of PPE, with some saying that limited quantities of face masks had been made available for home visits as of this week.

But others have reported being offered no PPE by employers, and having to work in environments within which they do not feel sufficiently protected.

Community Care has contacted the Department of Health and Social Care for comment as to where social workers sit in any coronavirus testing hierarchy as capabilities increase. We will update this article as and when we receive a response.

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