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BASW response to audit report into Government’s response to pandemic

Social care and social work must be recognised as equals to healthcare, with greater transparency on key decisions

The National Audit Office’s Initial learning from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic report provides much needed scrutiny of the Government’s handling of the pandemic.

The initial response felt far below the standard expected of Government, especially in the lack of consulting with sectors and transparency with vital stakeholders in health and social care.

Lessons must be learned. For example, as part of workforce pressures and coordination, the Government must ensure the social care and social work sector is represented at senior levels.

Consulting and engaging with groups like BASW could have saved money and time at the very start of the pandemic, rather than continuous changing of guidance based on public response and emerging evidence that was available at the start of the pandemic.

Further messages from the report include some of great importance to social work that echo BASW’s demands during the pandemic.

Chief amongst these learnings from BASW’s point of view is that social care, and social work as a lead profession within it, must be recognised as an equal partner with health services.

The NHS cannot function without social care and the public is harmed by social care’s lack of recognition by government.

Social work has an essential role in responding to emergencies – both in providing direct help (see our work on the Role of Social Work in Disasters) and in ensuring human rights are protected.

Key points and learnings from the report:

  • The report recognises that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted specific groups, a number of whom would already have been in contact with social workers. This has compounded the stress on social workers as frontline workers who were already under pressure in the face of existing workforce challenges.
  • It is important that the role of social workers as frontline staff is recognised and that their voices are heard. BASW is actively doing this through our Advice and Representation service, our Professional Support Service scheme, by being visible in the press and in media campaigns.
  • Practitioners will need to receive ongoing support to help them come to terms with the significant demands which were placed upon them as they supported people through the pandemic.
  • The report highlights the disparities between the NHS and social care, particularly adult social care in England, where a long-promised plan for social care has yet to be delivered.
  • It recognises that service sustainability was already in question before the pandemic hit and this is an issue that needs to be addressed going forward.
  • The Government have favoured delivering announcements and updates from Downing Street rather than Parliament, which has weakened the scrutiny function of the Government’s action on the pandemic. BASW agree with the report that there must be transparency and public trust, and the Prime Minister being more accountable to Parliament should be a necessary action that results from this.