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Ruth Allen, BASW CEO and Gerry Nosowska, BASW chair share concerns for this stage of the pandemic

Updated guidance for social workers to be shared by the end of July

Social workers’ ethical response to Covid has gone far beyond the letter of the law and as a profession we need to continue acting on professional evidence and principles to promote the wellbeing of people we work with and our own wellbeing as a workforce, even as many public health restrictive laws are eased.

All nations across the UK have reduced or are looking to reduce soon legal Covid restrictions and policies.

Rules have now changed in in England (where all Covid restriction rules and laws have been lifted today) and in Scotland and Wales (where significant but more limited changes have already been made). Changes come into force in Northern Ireland on 26th July.

An overivew can be found on the BBC website of the changes across each nation as at 19th July 2021.

This easing is happening at a time when case numbers are at their highest since December 2020 at just under 50,000 per day across the UK. Cases and hospital admissions are on an upward trend, although with regional and national variations. 

The public health intervention now being relied upon primarily is vaccination – especially in England where the full legal removal of requirements to (amongst other things) wear masks, maintain social distancing, limit social group sizes and work from home is predicated almost entirely on vaccinating the adult population. 

The vaccine is protecting millions of us. But the retention of other public health measures in Wales and Scotland (variously requiring limitations in size of gathering, masks, social distancing etc) acknowledges that vaccination – which cannot provide 100% protection - may not alone prevent severe cases rising and may be undermined by variant strains that can more easily circumvent the vaccine.   

We remain concerned that extensive easing at this point may lead to unsustainable Covid pressures on NHS and social care services and staff  - through workload, personal illness and being required to isolate through the ‘test and trace’ app) – and further worsen waiting lists for other essential care and preventive programmes such as screening. We are particularly concerned about the backlog in services for young people and adults with mental health needs.

Of course, the mental, physical, social, economic and public health detriments of ‘lock downs’ and restrictions are very well recognised.

There have been rises in ‘behind closed doors’ abuses, mental and physical health problems and financial strain.  

Social workers are affected in their work and personal lives by these challenges, just like anyone else.

But to come through this pandemic with reducing harm, and no return to full lockdowns, opening up must and can be managed according to the public health data and science – national, UK wide and international.

BASW will focus on the implications of this phase of the pandemic and public health decisions being made in each nation.

We will keep up to date with the health and social science evidence and gather other forms of evidence emerging from practitioners’ and citizens’ experiences.

We will provide social workers with ongoing and up to date advice on issues of practice, ethics and health and safety at work.

By the end of July, we will have reviewed and reissued key parts of our Covid 19  guidance for social workers taking account of these changes in national legal and policy frameworks. We will particularly focus on:

  • How social workers can stay safe and be able to practice ethically under new national policies
  • How social workers can help ensure people at elevated risk from Covid under the new policy regimes are protected
  • Raising up social workers’ voices on the practical and ethical implications of national Covid policies with politicians, the media and others in the social work sector.