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Message to members from BASW NI Chair

Dear Colleague,

We are living through unprecedented times. As social workers we have a long history of working in climates of uncertainty and through societal crisis. However, there are no rule books, policies or procedures readily available to us or the wider community as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognise the extreme challenges you are all facing at this time and I want to assure you that the BASW NI staff team will continue to represent your interests in this matter in the days and weeks ahead.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus I wrote to our key social work leaders. I asked for an update on what advice and steps had been taken to mitigate against the impact of COVID-19.  I highlighted the need for guidance beyond that provided by the Public Health Agency. I asked how social workers could protect themselves and their service users in the context of their unique roles across the multitude of high risk transmission settings. I also requested a brief of the contingencies being considered to manage the reality of reduced staffing levels across the sectors in the weeks and months ahead.

I am pleased to have received a response from the Chair of the Association of the Executive Directors of Social Work. It outlines the work of the HSC Trusts in recent weeks to pro-actively develop and implement plans to respond to the threat of COVID-19, with the individual Executive Directors involved in Trust specific contingency meetings on a daily basis.

I have been advised that all Operational Directors have developed Business Continuity Plans covering their professional groups and services, with Trusts continuing to follow current guidance and advice from Public Health England and the PHA to try and contain the spread of COVID-19 and to minimise the possibility of any staff contracting the virus.

On 11th March and 18th March I wrote to the Office of the Chief Social Worker at the Department of Health, requesting guidance be provided which would outline in detail how social workers here can protect themselves from the risks inherent in the maintenance of their role. I also asked for details of contingencies going forward in order that we could assure you that steps were being taken to support the most critical work you provide to our community. Unfortunately, we have not received a response to either letter. I acknowledge the efforts that have been made by the Department and the OSS to reach out to social workers and our colleagues in social care through both mainstream and social media. However, you have advised us that the information you are receiving is limited and disjointed. Therefore, I continue to ask that an appropriate response is provided to help you meet the needs of our community at this most difficult time.

Across the BASW membership we have distributed a brief questionnaire to highlight the concerns that you hold. I would ask that you each complete this so that we can urgently collate and direct our response to your needs. Alternatively, please contact us at any time with your concerns or evidence of good practice in your teams and service areas. We all need to work collectively if we are to manage the surge in the forthcoming weeks. This will require a co-ordinated response and BASW NI are well placed to contribute to that planning. Already you have highlighted the significant impact of theses times on independent social workers whose experience is readily available to provide frontline support. Equally colleagues in both the education sector and voluntary sector are prepared to re-direct to assist in the maintenance of critical services. BASW NI agree that as a profession we need to be prepared to assume different responsibilities. You have indicated your willingness to do so but you must be protected as you assume such roles.

In the weeks and months ahead we will all likely to be impacted by COVID-19. As social workers we are too often overlooked. At BASW (NI) I assure you that your needs and those of everyone we work with is our priority.

Yours sincerely


Orlaith McGibbon, BASW NI Chair


Latest update on coronavirus (Covid-19) by Department of Health

Date published: 11 March 2020


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