Social workers are an essential, if often overlooked, part of the health service.
Tasked with making sure people have a safe place and enough support once they leave hospital, the pressure is on as health trusts try to keep every bed possible available for Covid-19.
UNISON Eastern spoke to Jess Carrington, a hospital social worker and UNISON rep in Norfolk, about her role.
“We work with some of the most vulnerable people in society,” she said. “It’s fast paced and involves getting people our of hospital in a safe and timely manner – back home if at all possible.”
Unfortunately, the job only normally hits the headlines when the numbers of ‘bed-blockers’, or delayed transfers of care (DTOCs), are too high.
“But in each bed lies a person, not a number,” says Jess.
“Every person we assist is experiencing an acute crisis in their life. It could be due to illness, accident or abuse.”
Social workers are on hand to help those people regain control of their lives, making difficult decisions in complex situations.
“To see someone leave hospital and move on to the next stage of their life with the care they need is incredibly rewarding, and we feel privileged to be able to start people on their journey.
“In the line of duty we get shouted at, threatened and sometimes physically attacked but this doesn’t stop us.”
Despite the huge levels of personal resilience hospital social workers have built up, nothing could have prepared them for the coronavirus.
“As front line keyworkers our task is freeing up hospital beds for Covid-19 patients so that the NHS is not overwhelmed, and our work is more crucial now than ever.
“With parts of the Care Act suspended, we still need to ensure our clients are protected from abuse and have their essential needs met.”
Many people still need to be seen face-to-face and in close contact, while social workers probably have no idea if a client has the virus.
“We feel helpless at times, sometimes we just cannot get people out of hospital quickly enough to prevent them from catching Covid-19 and dying.
“The impact upon our mental health is immense.”
But with all this going on, local government workers have just received a “final offer” in this year’s pay rounds.
Jess isn’t impressed: “The offer of a 2.75% pay rise is frankly insulting.
“Local government workers deserve better.”