Sector bodies call for clarity over social workers’ position in Covid-19 vaccination priority list

Calls come amid concern AMHPs might be bumped down the list due to a lack of understanding about the role

A doctor giving a woman a Covid vaccination
Photo: hedgehog94/Adobe Stock

Story updated 11 January

Sector bodies are calling for clarity over the position of social workers on the government’s Covid-19 vaccination priority list, with particular concern over when higher-risk groups like approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) will be immunised.

While frontline health and social care workers are in the second priority group – and frontline care home staff in the first – social workers are not mentioned by name in any government guidance, leading to concerns over when practitioners will be vaccinated.

The priority list, drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), does not specify types of health and social care worker who should be immunised. The government’s green book on vaccination provides further detail, saying it includes those working in care homes and other long-stay facilities, care staff directly involved in direct care and “others involved directly in delivering social care such that they and vulnerable patients/ clients are at increased risk of exposure”.

While this is understood to include social workers, at no point are they mentioned by name, with the lack of detail prompting calls for the government to clearly outline when various parts of the frontline workforce could expect to get jabs.

Call for explicit reference to social workers

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said it supported calls for priority to be extended “explicitly to social workers working with older people and younger adults with disabilities and mental health issues”.

Jenny Coles, Association of Directors of Children’s Services president, joined the call and urged the government to include children’s services staff in its priority list for receiving access to appropriate testing and the vaccine.

“Despite the new and increased restrictions, many of our staff will remain on the front line providing vital support for those children and families that need it the most, it is essential that we can ensure their safety as quickly as possible,” Coles said.

A spokesperson for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW)  said it could confirm that social workers were in the priority group two, as set out by the JCVI, adding: “We understand it will take time to vaccinate all the individuals in Groups 1 and 2. BASW is working to ensure all social workers and social care workers in all types of provider organisations are prioritised for vaccination and have access equal to that for health staff within the roll out programme.”

Vaccinate AMHPs ‘as matter of urgency’

Meanwhile, ADASS has called for all AMHPs to be vaccinated “as a matter of urgency”.

It follows research commissioned by BASW and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), that found AMHPs were used “inappropriately” during the first wave of the pandemic because community services either closed down or were not seeing people face-to-face.

The report highlighted the challenges of social distancing during a Mental Health Act assessment where, typically, two doctors and an AMHP are required to sit together with a person who may be experiencing significant distress or agitation. On the back of the report, AMHP leads network chair Steve Chamberlain highlighted how MHA assessments were often carried out in restrictive environments, such as A&E side rooms and police cells, and the risks from the fact that AMHPs were, typically, older than the general social work workforce.

In relation to vaccination, Chamberlain told Community Care that the fact that AMHPs worked on behalf of local authorities but were often employed by NHS trusts meant they could “fall between the two stalls”.

“So many people don’t really understand the AMHP role and [AMHPs] could be missed in terms of understanding the priority and the level of risk they run when undertaking their statutory role.

“One of the problems I suppose is that everybody knows about nurses and nurses get all the headlines which is fair enough, but AMHPs and social workers generally are much lower down the risk of agenda and further down the headlines,” Chamberlain said.

The network has raised its concerns with DHSC mental health social work lead Mark Trewin, BASW and ADASS.

“We also want to raise it with each AMHP lead as wide as possible so they can raise it locally, because there needs to be clarity across the board,” Chamberlain added.

35 Responses to Sector bodies call for clarity over social workers’ position in Covid-19 vaccination priority list

  1. Fog January 8, 2021 at 6:04 pm #

    As a social worker I feel quite ashamed that leaders in social services have jumped onto the bandwagon calling for social wotkers to jump the queue.

    Social workers as a whole are are no greater risk than anyone else. Many Social workers will already be in one or more of the 9 most vulnerable groups and that should be enough.

    Those who are younger and not in these groups and particularly females who from the research are at less risk than males are not at a level of risk warranting jumping the queue.

    Once the elderly and vulnerable are vaccinated they should be safe from any professional who might have the virus. And those having the virus who are young and healthy are potentially more likely to die from other issues than this virus.

    Its quite bizarre that the leaders in local authorities are arguing the way they are and quite shameful in my opinion.

    Surely of all professionals social workers should be able to quantify risk more sensibly than appears to be the case here!

    • Andrew January 11, 2021 at 11:14 am #

      This is not just about older people over the age of 80. We work with some of the sickest and most vulnerable people in society, many of whom will not get the vaccine for some time – unless of course they fall into a priority banding – which many do not. This is not about jumping the bandwagon, it is about protecting the people that we work with, and ourselves, to ensure that we have enough staff available to meet people’s needs. The more social workers you have off sick, the less people can be discharged from hospital in a timely manner, and the more people in the community whose needs are not being met!

      • Steve January 12, 2021 at 7:30 am #

        Point 1 – No evidence vaccine reduces transmission, currently vaccinated are testing positive for covid. So rather than protecting and being off sick with symptoms you may well be giving it to people.

        Point 2 – SW are not required for discharge for people from hospital under pandemic regs. So I do not believe lack of SW will cause bed blocking. Note however the implied unhelpful threat.

        POINT 3- As a direct payment care worker working at less than 1m without a mask because vulnerable clients need care (who will remove masks of carer); with a SW department which can’t even sort out the need to identify genuine frontline care workers to GP’s so the FRONTLINE care workers get vaccinated under the correct priority, I find this need to queue jump self-serving. Unfortuately we are told why should you (Care Worker) get vaccinated, we haven’t yet.

        POINT 4 – When a SW is frontline they should be vaccinated, but not the profession. Queue jumping will kill, wait your turn and stop thinking a qualification makes anyone special and more important than the frontline workers in the trenches working against impossible odds.

        POINT 5 – We have to try and work together and as in point 1 a vaccinated SW would be excluded from our care services under H&S risk assessment until everyone in our care service is vaccinated or transmission is proved to have been eliminated.

        • STEPHANIE LEWSEY January 17, 2021 at 8:35 pm #

          As an informal carer I’m in round 6. The list of exceptions is getting longer. If I’m ill it’s the care system that will have to look after my mother and brother. My mum’s had hers and my brother is in round 7. To protect us all we’re still protecting ourselves, so we’ve only been out for food, medicine and appointments. With fluctuating supplies and adding these extras we may have to wait a long time before all the vulnerable are vaccinated. Use of mass centres is not helping, they need to prioritise GP surgeries, as many vulnerable wont or can’t travel the distances, I can see many 80+ being left behind as they prioritise big centres. Did you notice the govt. wording ‘offered’ vaccine, an invite to a centre is an offer. If they release restrictions on the number offered, that is a big worry.

      • Fog January 12, 2021 at 4:22 pm #

        If I agreed with you – which I don’t – your argument would only focus on a relatively small number of front line social workers and not the profession as a whole.

        Personally I have more trust in SAGE in deciding the priority list which focusses on what the science says about reducing deaths and serious illness and this not to be determined by professional anxiety which does not support the evidence. Statistically if you are under 65 years of age your risk of dying is 1 in 100,000.

        We now see that a call is being made for shop workers to be added to the priority list! – though they may have a stronger case on the basis of what you are arguing justifies SWs being prioritised than most social workers in my opinion.

        There are other ways social workers can minimise risk to themselves and others and what we need is leaders in local authorities and Government to ensure that we have the resources and equipment to make good risk assessments and action them

    • Jane Andrews January 15, 2021 at 9:20 am #

      That assumes all social workers work in local authorities, my team have been visiting families throughout Covid to safeguard the children and assess parents in their homes. We are directed by Courts to attend and have very little hope of getting on the lists, we can’t say no we will not go, so I think we should be able to protect ourselves and our families. There is no such thing as lockdown or stay at home for us.

  2. Beth January 8, 2021 at 6:34 pm #

    I raised this with BASW weeks ago!
    I am cancelling my membership their lag is as bad as Boris’s!
    I am livid!
    Social Work Teams are at risk now..
    I won’t even bother to tell you the lame response I received when raised. Seriously this is appalling and not good enough. BASW you may think you are the voice of social work but we are not getting heard!!

  3. Beth January 8, 2021 at 6:39 pm #

    By the way it’s a postcode lottery..Leeds have apparently vaccinated their social workers other authorities haven’t even thought about it.
    Social workers are visiting vulnerable people.

    • Fog January 11, 2021 at 10:16 am #

      Pretty shocked Leeds have taken that approach if true – poor judgement in opinion. We hear in the news today that only 1 in 10 elderly people in care homes have been vaccinated. If your under 65 with no underlying health problems your risk of dying from this virus (based on Gov stats) is half your risk of dying as a pedestrian. It is 1/5 your risk of dying each year in a road accident while driving your car. For the elderly in old people’s homes who haven’t been vaccinated because some professionals are panicking and jumping the queue the risk is very real and not imagined

      • David January 16, 2021 at 1:05 pm #

        I work in Leeds and we were able to book to receive the vaccine over the Christmas period. People have been getting vaccinated since we came back in the new year.

  4. Experto Crede January 8, 2021 at 8:11 pm #

    Can imagine the difficulty here lies squarely with local authorities and unions who decided their social workers would stop seeing all clients face to face . And not having a clue that the very very few who would have to are the AMHPs located in MH Trusts but employed by LAs. Whose very existence is a mystery to those who should know better.

    But it does bring up a very serious point about prioritising and social workers can’t have it both ways. If they are essential workers why, on the whole, haven’t they been seeing clients face to face? As essential workers have been.

    Because those who have carried on in other sectors may well gall at the fact they have done so throughout under huge stress at great risk and therefore should be prioritised over those working from home. Not because they deserve the jab more but because they are the ones at risk.

    If you have accepted and even argued that homeworking is working then you don’t get to queue jump over NHS staff, care workers, teachers, transport workers or shop workers. And if you are an AMHP working out of a MH Trust you should have been offered the jab by now. It’s the other AMHPs that need a voice if not under employment or location of NHS. Plus essential project based statutory Advocates.

    Maybe those social workers here who haven’t been seeing clients as before can tell the rest of us if you were jabbed would you be resuming full service? Because if not, how can you argue priority?

    Excluded AMHPs probably best advised refuse to work until your local MH Trusts give you jab access. Not hard for them to do. Acute Trusts are doing so for essential workforce not directly employed by them but considered vital. About time MH Trusts acted like rest of NHS. Waiting for local authorities to even consider it is essential to see people face to face won’t produce jack.

    • N.w January 12, 2021 at 10:11 pm #

      Just a minor point – I personally cannot wait to start doing face to face visits again, and if a vaccine for my customers and for me makes that possible then I’m happy to have it, it can’t come quick enough for my liking. I think there’s of course professions that need it more than we do and obviously those with health issues and the elderly but the point is we have been mentioned now finally in the roll out process and rightly so. We are always forgotten and I don’t think people realise how hard this pandemic has been on the profession.

  5. Mark Trewin January 9, 2021 at 9:08 am #

    Thanks Charlotte for writing about this important issue. I have already been working with the DHSC vaccination team about the AMHP and social work role and have supported BASW with their recent helpful information and sent out information to the AMHP leads network.

    I think the national guidance is clear on this. Although the JVCI guidance does not specify professionals, social workers and AMHPs are priority workers under the guidance for the rollout of the covid 19 vaccine. All health and social care workers who provide face to face or direct care or support to people who may be clinically vulnerable are priority to receive the vaccine in the roll out currently under way. There is clear guidance about this on the http://www.gov.uk website.

    NHSE/I have yesterday published more helpful information on this issue outlining that health and social care professionals working directly with people at risk of COVID-19 are priority for the vaccine regardless of their employer or place of work. Local Authority staff are mentioned in this.

    It is therefore the case that the national guidance fully recognises that AMHPs and social workers are a priority. It will be important that local systems recognise this and prioritise these professional groups. We hope that there will be further information in this soon.

    We also need to remember that this is the start of a major and complex national roll out. It is likely that there will be a variable approach across the country and this is not necessarily about people being denied priority status.

    I will continue to send out updates and information on this issue as it develops. If anyone does have any concerns about the situation in their area, please do contact me on mark.trewin@dhsc.gov.uk

  6. Fog January 9, 2021 at 10:23 am #

    For anyone under the age of 65 the risk of dying from coronavirus based on Gov statistics is about 1 in 100,000. The risk of dying from a rod traffic accident every year is 1 in 20,000 with a lifetime risk if 1 in 240. Your twice as likely to die while walking down the street 2 in 100,000).

    Notwithstanding that coronavirus as a disease has to be taken very seriously and the most vulnerable in society – mainly over 65s – have to be prioritised (because risk of dying increases dramatically with age) I do think BASW and some SWs leaders are really failing to look at the data and not making good risk assessments and judgments and just exacerbating panic in SWs where it is questionable whether that should exist.

    The best support for SWs is to ensure that employers encourage good risk assessments of contacts with clients and individual vulnerability if each staff member and provide their staff with the right equipment to protect themselves and others.

    As Social Workers we constantly have to be aware of how cognitive bias in our thinking affects judgement and decision making. This includes biases like confirmation bias and proportionality bias as well as the risk of finding patterns that don’t really exist.

    I fear BASW et al are falling into that trap

  7. Sanjay January 9, 2021 at 10:52 am #

    For once it would be good to hear social work leaders talk about us on our own merits than yet again pit social workers against other workers. I don’t care about let alone begrudge whatever headlines nurses get, they are exploited and undervalued just like us. Leaders might think it’s us against ‘them’ but in the grubby, shabby, dangerous environments we all work in, we just see workers together. The impotence of social work isn’t because of better regard for nurses, it’s our own failing, no one else to blame. I wonder which of these represents the profile of their staff better: Social Work England or the Royal Collage of Nursing? Start there.

  8. Bob January 9, 2021 at 11:07 am #

    Ask for an urgent meeting with Sir David Pearson, social worker and Chair of the social care covid response task force Steve. Friends in high places and all that.

  9. Courtney January 9, 2021 at 4:25 pm #

    Please stop this destructive narrative of other workers being better off than us. Comparisons are insidious unless you are demanding, not requesting, our employers look after us better not just now but always. I don’t want one nurse not to get a vaccination so we can instead. I want all of us to be protected and working safely. Make your own headlines and bump us up the agenda on our terms. Playing one group of workers against another is just unedifying envy. It’s horrible and divisive. They are in danger and so are we, we die and so have they. Address that. You don’t represent my interests as an AMPH with this narrative.

  10. Tamar.O.Woodhouse January 10, 2021 at 1:02 pm #

    I am a diabetic BAME Children Social Worker who continue to undertake home visit to children daily to keep them safe and support some clarity re-vacinnaton for Social Workers as we are providing very important roles within the community.

  11. Claire January 10, 2021 at 8:09 pm #

    Even if I accepted that social workers working from home without direct contact with clients should have priority, which I don’t, your ‘reassurance’ Mark Trewin is I am afraid hollow given how many of us in client contact roles still haven’t been offered a Covid test by our local authority. I and collagues have spent our own off work time getting tested.

    • Debbie January 12, 2021 at 8:18 am #

      I am a safeguarding social worker who is still going out and having fave to face contact with vulnerable families who will not be getting the cm vaccine any time soon. Social Workers working with vulnerable families have been carrying out home visits throughout all three lockdowns.

      Nut sure where you got the idea we sit at home having no direct contact with our families and vulnerable/at risk children. Who else do you think has been doing weekly child protection visits?

      • Claire January 13, 2021 at 9:55 am #

        How many of your team have been working from home Debbie? And you will be getting the vaccine.

      • Amy Jones January 14, 2021 at 1:31 am #

        I agree! I am also a child protection social worker who has completed face to face visits throughout. The working from home element is doing the admin side. We are at home instead of the office so no contact with professionals. It’s very isolating as no colleague contact.

    • Anne January 16, 2021 at 6:28 pm #

      I am a frontline children’s safeguarding social worker who has had to go into homes throughout the pandemic despite many of the families having symptoms and the rest not following any of the rules to keep themselves safe.
      FYI You cannot socially distance in a tiny flat with parents and 6 kids!
      I brought covid home (from a child I had safeguarded with the police) and got it mildly myself. However my daughter caught it from me and was incredibly ill.

  12. Andrew January 11, 2021 at 11:16 am #

    I raised this ages ago. We need a stable social worker workforce because the more staff we have off sick the more delayed hospital discharges will become, and the more people in the community will not have their needs met. This is about protecting people in the community, and social workers, and ensuring a stable and reliable workforce!

    My sister is an administrator in the NHS and has had her vaccine, yet she has no contact with patients. Yet, I’m going into people’s homes and haven’t had mine – where is the sense in that?

  13. Annette Brown January 11, 2021 at 11:18 am #

    Here we go again, poor AMHP’s, heroic, valiant, alone and ignored. No plaudits, no headlines, just graft. Meanwhile in the real world my daughter who works 9 hour shifts at Aldi, gets sworn at, is threatened and has no power to refuse to serve an aggressive shopper. Unlike AMHP’s who can walk away or cower behind the police. No forum for her or her collagues to air griviences though. Out of sight, out of anyone’s thought, invisible dare I say it to even those worn out social workers. As an ex-ASW, I find this griping and envy really demoralising. See that home care worker, going in an out of multiple homes with no paid break time? Headline that Mr Chamberlin.

  14. Debbie January 11, 2021 at 11:41 am #

    Severe mental illness is regarded as an indicator for morbidity and mortality. People with mental illness are also less likely to access treatment. AMHP’s primarily work with this group. Perhaps they can advocate for better vaccination strategies of severely mentally ill people other than to subject them to detention. It’s really not very public spirited to ignore the extremely vulnerable and elbow ourselves to the front when any rational reading of the vaccination protocol shows us in the first tranche anyway. As others have said, this is all very unedifying.

  15. Annette Brown January 11, 2021 at 1:23 pm #

    My daughter hasn’t been vaccinated either and she probably has close contact with 100 people a day in the store. Ask your bosses why you come below administrators because you have the power to demand. Other workers don’t even have a union to represent them. Show solidarity not envy.

  16. Will January 11, 2021 at 1:29 pm #

    Good to know it’s taken a pandemic for social workers to realise some peoples needs are not being met. Everything was grand and will be grand again once social workers are vaccinated so they can spend 80% of their time in front of a computer.

  17. Roger Anderson January 13, 2021 at 10:09 am #

    Great that social workers like you and I have worked as near as normally as we can. That doesn’t apply to all social workers and services though does it Debbie? There have been good reasons for remote working and that is the still the case across social work settings. Being defensive when questions are raised about whether all social workers should get the vaccine immediately is strange to me.

  18. Callum January 13, 2021 at 4:12 pm #

    SWE have written to the DfE and DHSC asking that social workers should be given priority.

  19. Sue January 13, 2021 at 10:21 pm #

    As a SW from children’s I have continued to visit children regularly, also BAME, I find the argument if your under 65 your less likely to die very naive.. there have been many victims to covid including children. Imagine being that 35 year old social worker who has it with no symptoms who continues to visit families including newborns in hospitals / foster carers / disabled children / schools – god forbid I ever passed it to someone and they died. The fact that we are still on the go all day every day IN the community, IN numerous homes, IN schools, in a working capacity I think we should be recognised as a priority group. Ill also add the relief of the additional stress and pressure on services to cover over half the work force who at times need to self isolate at times would be great.

  20. Arthur January 13, 2021 at 11:36 pm #

    No one is arguing workers like you Sue shouldn’t get vaccinated. But not all social workers have continued with community visits, I am one of them. When even the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police force argues it is absurd for her to be offered the vaccine but not officers on the beat, I think as social workers we can be gracious enough to make a similar differentiation.

  21. Jane Andrews January 15, 2021 at 9:28 am #

    Those of us working as independent social workers are really being pushed to pick up work our employed colleagues can’t. If we were vaccinated we could continue to provide court directed work and get quicker resolutions for children. The courts are backed up, children are left in foster care and we are putting ourselves at risk all the time. You can not assess a parent with learning needs wearing a mask and sitting 2 meters apart, most living rooms are less than that! We are going in and out of different homes most days. It’s tough but the issue is each time a social worker gets ill their workload is at risk so we get called in. It’s the same with the NHS, we need to keep our frontline healthy, to ensure they protect everyone else

  22. Lisa January 17, 2021 at 2:14 am #

    I agree there should be some sort of priority order for SW who are doing visits. I am an ATM in a frontline children’s team and our SW have been doing face to face visits throughout the pandemic, initially without PPE. As a manager I rarely go out( I did a few in the early stages of the pandemic as I felt I had to be willing to do what we were expecting others to do). I would not expect to be prioritised for the vaccine but would expect those doing visits to be. I mean would I turn it down if I was offered it…probably not If being honest. We noticed that the majority of other teams ( not safeguarding) have refused to do any face to face visits throughout the pandemic. This included CAMHs SW who have been vaccinated as part of the NHS rollout. Let the LA’s make a list of SW who are required to do face to face and vaccinate them. Everyone else can then wait in line and continue not to do any face to face contacts. I can only imagine the kick off from all of those who’ve been refusing to do any visits throughout but want to be first in line for the vaccine!

  23. Kate January 18, 2021 at 10:07 am #

    Unkind Lisa. Our collagues haven’t refused to do home visits. They’ve agonised over how best to minimise health risks to their clients and concluded that stopping visits is the most appropriate professional response. And really, aren’t we always behind with our admin and reports? What better time than a pandemic to get these sorted. The intellectual gymnastics in my team to justify home working and not doing visits is a wonderful spectacle. Of course these colleagues should be first in line.