England & Wales, Scotland Covid-19, Health and social care

Covid-19: Yesterday was a good day: a view from the frontline of social work

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

A testimony from a frontline social worker gives a firsthand account of the day-to-day and structural problems faced by those battling the crisis and for those most vulnerable at this time. 

I was on duty and in the office. That, in turn, meant that I was able to see and speak to the few colleagues who were around. The atmosphere was calm and reassuringly, there was no sense of despair or despondency. The real key workers in the social services sector are those who directly deliver care to people in care homes or in the community. While I am generally working from home, like most social workers, and not seeing anyone face to face except in very exceptional circumstances (I’ve seen two people face to face over the past four weeks), social care workers are in daily contact with some of the most vulnerable people in our society in order to provide them with the care without which they would not survive. Now that’s what I call a valuable role and I hope that the fine words of gratitude being directed by our political leaders towards the vital work done by care workers, including NHS staff, are converted into a financial recognition of their worth. But I have my doubts that we will do anything other than return to business as usual.

As mentioned in the title, yesterday was a good day. I actually got to see a client and arrange a meeting between him and other key staff. There was an interesting difference in approach to the meetings from the different people involved. I met the client with representatives of a support agency and none of us wore any protective equipment. The support agency representatives did not have any, the client did not want a mask and I did not feel comfortable wearing a mask when no one else was doing so. We relied on social distancing and hand washing before and after the meeting. There was then a meeting between the client and various NHS representatives during which the professionals all wore masks, gloves and plastic aprons. The client declined to wear a mask. It is NHS policy for staff to wear PPE if meeting patients or clients face to face. It looked strange and more suitable for a surgical setting than a meeting room in a social work centre. Luckily the client did not appear to be freaked out by the masked medics.

After that encounter, I made an attempt to do our thrice-weekly welfare check on a man with dementia who lives alone and has no support. Due to the effects of dementia, his memory is very poor but otherwise he manages relatively well. During this Covid-19 dominated period, he is at risk because he cannot remember what he has to do to keep himself and others safe and continues to go out on the bus as he has done every day for the last 5 years. Luckily he tends to keep himself to himself so does not interact much with others and thus he is inadvertently keeping himself safer than if we moved him to a place of safety (not that he would move voluntarily) which would ironically be a care home. Enough said. He was not in when I called round to his flat but I know that he was seen on Monday and that he got his money so I am not worried about him. Someone will try to see him tomorrow.

I heard from a friend about an elderly relative who used to attend a day service twice per week and had a befriender visiting once a week. The person in question has dementia and is reliant on the stimulation and opportunities for social interaction provided by the services he was receiving. These services are now cancelled and the alternatives on offer are for online or phone contact, neither of which are adequate replacements in this case or probably in most similar cases. Since the cancellation of face to face, support my friend’s relative has shown increased signs of disorientation and confusion which is distressing for him and for the family. This situation will be being replicated throughout the country and is an illustration of one of the hidden costs of the lockdown. These emotional and social costs of enforced isolation must be taken into account when politicians are considering a loosening of restrictions.

Finally, I feel frustrated at the continuing failure of national governments to protect both frontline workers and those in their charge. How many frontline staff have died as a result of not having the correct PPE and how many need to die before those in positions of power to take concerted action? It is time for the media and society as a whole to hold our leaders to account for the situation we find ourselves in and to demand better for those who put their lives on the line every day of this crisis. Here’s hoping for a safer and more just future for us all.

And with that trenchant, some might say truculent, message from a concerned and angry social worker, I think it’s time I had my lunch.

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