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‘No public health without social health’

Social work’s role in public health is not well recognised and does not seem to be an embedded part of national public health thinking or strategy.

We have now received responses to letters sent to both Clara Swinson (Director General for Public and Global Health and DHSC) and Yvonne Doyle (Medical Director for Public Health England).

We are pleased to have had responses to both letters; social workers need to be heard and recognised throughout this pandemic. Across the two letters we raised issues of safety and good practice in protecting both social workers and people using services.  Neither letter addressed our concerns in detail although the later response from Yvonne Doyle reflected on the clear inequalities issues we raised and was able to cite more recent guidance for health, safety and practice in adult social care generally which we have welcomed.

We will continue to pursue issues with Chief Social Workers and their equivalents in all nations, and with all Public Health bodies across the UK.

A key issue that has been exposed during this pandemic is that social work’s role in public health is not well recognised and does not seem to be an embedded part of national public health thinking or strategy.  This has been a glaring issue at governmental level - while we are aware that communication and joint working between social care and public health departments at local level can be very productive.

We need national public health strategy to be conceptually and strategically joined up with social work and social care.  There is no public health without social health – and often they are inextricably linked.

We call for recognition and promotion of the public health role of social workers in preventing and protecting against health and social harms; early intervention to prevent deterioration; community-intelligence gathering; working with whole family systems; insight into how citizens can best use systems of care and support; understanding diverse and marginalised communities and social workers’ outreach to people who may find it hard to access services.

We continue to be very concerned at the higher percentage of health and social care staff from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds who have both contracted and died from COVID-19 and trust the Public Health England review led by Kevin Fenton to analyse people's vulnerability to the virus will directly involve social work and social care sector partners as well as the wider review commissioned by the Secretary of State on disadvantage, due to report at the end of May 2020.

This lack of public health recognition of social work during this pandemic is at the root of lack of clear health and safety provisions (e.g late and inadequate access to PPE) and lack of recognition of the centrality of social workers in addressing this pandemic crisis alongside colleagues.  At local level and in day to day services, this is clear in much of the work social workers are achieving and in the creativity they are showing. We now need this to be embedded in national public and population health strategy for the future, during this pandemic crisis and beyond.

We will be publishing our document on the role of social workers in pandemic situations (based on our work on social work in disasters and emergencies) and further documents about social work and public health.

Further information