Twenty one social workers were recorded as dying from Covid-19 up to the last week of May, more than double the figure recorded for mid-April, official figures have shown.
The deaths of eight male and 13 female practitioners in England and Wales were registered as involving Covid-19 from 9 March to 25 May, said the Office for National Statistics. Up to 20 April, 10 deaths had been recorded among social workers.
Most of these deaths have not been publicised – Community Care has reported on two of them – however, our survey of social care practitioners – most of whom were social workers – on the impact of the pandemic in May found that 30% had had colleagues who had become seriously ill or died due to Covid-19.
The survey also found that 55% of practitioners had carried out duties that had caused them anxiety that they, their families or people they worked with could be put at risk of infection, with separate research by academics identifying a number of factors driving social workers to take risks in practising during the pandemic.
Deaths among social care staff well outstripping national average
The ONS figures also showed a substantial and widening gap in the Covid-19 death rate between social care staff and the general working population. Among men, there were 50.1 deaths per 100,000 male social care workers from the disease from 9 March to 25 May, compared with 19.1 for workers in general, while among female staff it was 19.1 for social care staff compared with 9.7 for the general working population.
Death rates for care staff have doubled since the last set of ONS figures on deaths from Covid by occupation, up to 20 April, when the rate for men was 23.4 and for women 9.6. They remain well above the equivalent rates for health staff, which were 30.4 for men and 11.0 for women.
Overall, there were 268 deaths among social care staff from 9 March to 25 May, with frontline care workers accounting for 204 of these.
Social care ‘neglected’ during pandemic
Think-tank the King’s Fund said the figured illustrated how social care had been neglected by government during the pandemic.
“It is a tragedy that such a disproportionately high number of social care staff have died from Covid-19,” said Suzie Bailey, director of leadership and organisational development. “Hard-working care staff have been on the frontline in this crisis, but have been let down by government promises of support that have not been delivered. It is increasingly clear that social care has been neglected during the pandemic, with disastrous consequences.
“Lessons must be learnt. The virus still poses a very real threat and care workers need to be prioritised and protected. Social care must never again be treated as an afterthought to the NHS, but as an equal partner in an interdependent system.”
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “These figures reflect a tragic national scandal. The government has failed to protect social care during this pandemic and even now, these issues are far from being resolved.
“Care workers have financial pressures to work when they should be shielding or self-isolating. Protective kit is being used for longer than is safe and testing is still not happening. Social care needs reform from top to toe to fix the system for good.”