Omicron infections in wider workforce ‘add pressure’ to ‘exhausted’ social workers

(credit: raquel/Adobe Stock)

Social workers are under increased pressure due to Omicron-related staff absences elsewhere in social care and increased assessment workloads, sector bodies have warned.

Already ‘exhausted’ practitioners had to step in to carry out wellbeing checks on adults deprived of the care they need due to growing staff shortages in residential and home care, the British Association of Social Workers has said. (BASW).

Meanwhile, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said adult social workers were facing “a significant increase in assessment and planning work” due to a “still growing” of people requiring home care and entering and leaving. out of the hospital.

Meanwhile, UNISON is seeking a meeting with the Department of Education to address a ‘child safety crisis’ linked to the ‘skyrocketing’ number of child social worker cases. .

Growing staff shortages

Vacancies in adult social services fell from 9.2% to 9.4%, from November to December 2021, compared to 6.1% in May, while the number of filled vacancies in services fell to 3 .7% below March 2021 levels, according to data released this month by Skills for Care.

A BASW spokesperson said staffing shortages across the workforce had been exacerbated by Omicron, resulting in a lack of provisions “to facilitate discharge from hospital or to support a preventative approach “.

“This staffing crisis for provider services is adding more pressure and work for social workers, who find themselves taking on additional new tasks alongside existing workloads, such as carrying out wellness checks and risk assessments for people not getting the care and support they need,” the spokesperson added.

Social workers also needed to work with public health, commissioning and quality teams to address business continuity issues related to the shortage of providers, they said.

“Significant increase in evaluation work”

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said local authorities were taking “extraordinary measures” to ensure people continue to receive the care and support they need amidst labor shortages. of social work in the broad sense.

“Social workers are undertaking a significant increase in assessment and planning work with people to organize care and support for an ever-increasing number of people needing support at home, entering and leaving hospital , undertaking assessments under the Mental Health Act and constantly prioritizing those with the greatest needs,” said Cathie Williams, CEO of ADASS.

“The situation has worsened over the winter, compounded by the increasing number of employees who are sick or isolated due to contracting the virus, as our most recent investigation showed, which has led to incredibly difficult decisions about who gets care and support, and how much. .”

Williams said that while the spread of the Omicron variant had exacerbated staffing shortages, central government’s inability to fund adult social care over the past decade and reward social workers was to blame for the current crisis.

A recent ADASS survey of principals found that 13% of councils had rationed care to ‘life and physical integrity’ only – limiting assistance to food, hydration, toileting and change of continence linen – at Christmas, while 43% reprioritized support to those who were most comfortable. risk and for essential activities only.

“Firefighting” – current work pressures

BASW said the situation meant people were reaching a ‘crisis point’ before being assessed, with social workers and managers reporting they were in a constant state of ‘firefighting’.

“[This] compromises their ability to perform their role effectively and maintain their ethical and professional standards,” the BASW spokesperson said.

They said the longer-term impact of working in this way is beginning to show up in reports of social workers leaving the profession “sooner than they would otherwise have expected, which has far-reaching implications for the future workforce planning”.

Gill Archer, UNISON’s national officer for social work, said his union had requested a meeting with the Department for Education to discuss an “ongoing child safety crisis”, which the pandemic had contributed.

She said the “skyrocketing” number of child social worker cases and cuts to early help services had “undermined what social workers do”.

“That meant heavy and complex workloads, which the pandemic has exacerbated. Members said they were concerned about their mental health and their ability to provide services. They say they are just fighting fires rather than understanding the families’ issues,” she said.

A senior social worker in Northamptonshire said around 10 per cent of staff were absent from some social work shifts, either because they had Covid and were self-isolating or due to stress from intense pressures on staff.

The county reported a critical incident earlier in the month due to Covid-related staffing shortages in hospitals, nursing homes and other services.

Working from home ‘stems the spread of Covid’

However, Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Workforce Development Policy Committee, said that “for the record” there was no of “significant difficulties” in children’s services due to Covid.

She attributed this to the workforce adapting to working from home – while resuming face-to-face visits to families – during the pandemic, reducing infection risks in offices.

She said this meant that even if practitioners tested positive, it did not then spread to the whole of social work teams.

Overall, she said, children’s social work teams were under “pretty usual labor pressures for this time of year.”

Difficulty accessing tests

BASW said social workers in some areas have reported having difficulty accessing lateral flow testing (LFT).

“Lack of access to regular testing is impacting the ability of caseworkers to make face-to-face in-person visits to their homes or care facilities, creating additional pressures on the already overstretched and overburdened system. ” said the spokesperson.

But they said some employers had provided lateral flow tests (LFTs) to staff when they weren’t available on the government’s website and social workers had priority access to PCR (chain reaction by polymerase).

Northamptonshire’s senior social worker said his public health team had helped to ensure social workers had better access to CFLs after some of the children’s teams reported problems with access.

Michael A. Bynum