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Social Workers Lead Debate on Reform of Primary Care

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) has hosted a roundtable discussion event to explore Department of Health proposals for reforming primary care services.

The proposed measures were outlined by the former Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill MLA – prior to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive – in her ten-year Vision for Health and Social Care (HSC), Health and Wellbeing 2026. The Vision committed to enhance primary care by introducing multidisciplinary teams embedded around General Practice. The teams will include GPs, Pharmacists, District Nurses, Health Visitors, Allied Health Professionals and Social Workers.

Speaking after the event attended by Department of Health officials and representatives from healthcare professional bodies, Carolyn Ewart, NIASW Country Manager, said: “The former Minister’s proposal represents a significant change for social workers. However, it is one which our profession aims to fully engage with and we will work to ensure the future model for primary care best meets the needs of social work service users.

“Our roundtable discussion provided an opportunity for NIASW to outline the views of social workers and to hear from our colleagues in the healthcare professions.  Prior to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, the Assembly Health Committee began preparations for an inquiry into the multidisciplinary teams proposal. In the absence of the vital scrutiny that would otherwise be provided by our devolved institutions, it is all the more essential that professional bodies have an opportunity to shape and inform the Department of Health’s policy for reforming primary care.”

During the meeting NIASW outlined a number of key issues identified by social workers during an extensive consultation exercise run by NIASW. These included the need for social workers in multidisciplinary teams to remain employed and managed by the Health and Social Care Trusts, and contracted at a salary band appropriate for the wide range of responsibilities that will be held by post holders.

Ms Ewart continued by saying: “Introducing new generalist posts in multidisciplinary teams will require social workers to work across many programmes of care, breaking from the current model which sees social workers tend to specialise in a single area of practice. Significant experience, expertise and knowledge will be required, and for this reason members have told us that new social work posts in multidisciplinary primary care teams should be set at Agenda for Change Band 8A level.”

Carolyn concluded by saying: “There is an appetite for change within our profession and social workers are not wedded to existing models of service delivery. However, for change to be effectively and efficiently achieved it is essential those who will be delivering services are centrally involved in their design. On behalf of the social work profession NIASW is committed to work with the Department of Health, and our healthcare colleagues, to create the systems needed to enhance primary care in Northern Ireland.


Note to Editors

  • NIASW Country Manager, Carolyn Ewart, will be available for interviews.
  • The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) is part of the British Association Social Workers (BASW), which is the largest professional body for social workers across the UK. The Association has 21,000 members employed in frontline, management, academic and research positions in all care settings.
  • The roundtable event was attended by officials from the Department of Health and representatives from the Royal College of General Practitioners, The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.
  • A paper detailing NIASW’s views on the multidisciplinary primary care teams proposal is available from
  • Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together is available from



Andy McClenaghan, Campaigns Officer

Phone: 028 9064 8873

Mobile: 07702 517560