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A night with an Emergency Duty Team

Ahead of World Mental Health Day, BASW is sharing a diary of an Emergency Duty Team (EDT) social worker

Social workers often work on emergency duty teams (EDTs). 

These teams are on call 24 hours a day for all emergencies needing social work involvement for children, families, adults and older people.

Calls can come in from GPs, the police, hospitals or specialist organisations - and can involve instances of extreme distress, missing people, violence, as well as falls, missed care appointments and more every-day caring matters.

Since the pandemic started, our members on EDT teams have reported a marked increase in cases where ill mental health is a major factor.  

Ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, we are sharing a diary of an anonymous EDT social worker based in London.

Diary of an Emergency Duty Team social worker 

From 4:30pm to 9am the next day

16:30 36 miles of petrol left in my tank. Wondering about whether to try and find fuel but decided not to waste it. No one locally seems to have any, so I hope it’ll be enough for one trip tonight if I need it

17:00 Got a call from the police about an elderly lady they are very worried about. She appears paranoid, confused and is tormenting her neighbours. I track down her records and see she is an active case with the older persons crisis team. I call the police back to reassure them that we are involved and aware of everybody’s concerns

17:15 Call from a GP who couldn’t get through during the day. He is asking for an emergency package of care for a woman in her 70s. She was discharged from hospital four days ago. At first, it appeared she did not need support but this has changed. The discharge team cannot help as she is already discharged. I called the GP back to strategise with him, who agreed he will refer to a team in the community that focuses on preventing readmission.

18:30 Call from a GP asking for help for a 99 year old woman who has no food. I ring back, but the surgery is already closed for the day. I call the 99yr old, who is lucid, alert and very frustrated. She explains she has been online shopping with the same supermarket for years but the delivery person said that they wouldn’t carry it up to beyond the second floor – she lives on the third floor – the consequence is that she’s got hardly any food in the house.

I agree it’s outrageous. She has enough for tonight, so I refer her to daytimes services who agree to send an emergency food package, and to contact the supermarket to shame them into resending her food for the rest of the week.

19:15 Got an NSPCC referral for a large family ranging in age from 5 to 21 years old. A welfare check has been requested after an allegation of an assault on a 16-year-old. I track him down on our information system and find that the family were known to children’s services in the past. The older children were previously on child protection plans due to concerns about aggression within the family. My EDT spider senses are starting to tingle. I ring the police for an update on the welfare check. Lots of people have been calling the police apparently, and they cannot tell me what’s been happening but promised to get the officers involved to give me a call back.

20:08 Received message back from the police about the family above, who say they saw the children on the doorstep and there were no obvious concerns. I am worried because, reading through the message, I realise they haven’t seen the 16-year-old I’m actually worried about. I call back the child abuse investigation team officer who promises to follow it up and make sure the visit is completed.

20:38 Call from police requesting mental health act assessment on a gentleman who is in custody. He has already been to A&E after self-harming, and is now harming himself again. I pass on a request for a sessional AMHP (approved mental health professional) to complete this.

21:50 Contact from an agency to say an older man does not want his evening carer as he is already in bed. Not really sure why these sorts of issues still get reported to us – he is allowed to go to bed early.

21:12 Report from a care agency to say that a man had a fall and is now on his way to the hospital.

21:20 Phone call from the mother of a looked after child, who is very worried that her son hasn’t been in contact all day. I take the details, empathise and start looking into the case. With a bit of digging alongside our local missing team, we realise he’s actually been arrested 80 miles away, and is in custody for county lines drug distribution. Hopefully he’ll get back to London tomorrow. I call the child’s mother back to let her know her son is okay, and will be back in London tomorrow

22:40 Call back from child abuse investigation team officer about the family. Like me, she is the only person on duty tonight and she is covering two areas. She tells me that the stepdad has been arrested and that there are no more details available now, but at least he is out of the house for tonight. However, there is still no confirmation of the 16yr old being seen.

23:30 I receive a notification about a missing young person. I noticed she has been out on a Saturday many times before, I text her foster carer just to check everything is okay but she doesn’t reply. I’m so glad we’ve got a new system so non-urgent referrals like this go directly to the allocated worker. Six months ago we would have 15 or 20 calls each night about young people not being back when they should be, and then reported back a few hours later. It was such a waste of the resource.

00:45 Call from a young favourite who calls us when he’s had a row with his family. I spent a few minutes talking to him, reassuring him, and encouraging him to listen to his parents but to still make his own choices. Hopefully he’s gone to bed now.

1:10 Receive a call about a client known to our assertive outreach team. She has been seen by the senior doctor, who has made one medical recommendation – they are asking for a mental health act assessment. I have a conversation with the nurse in charge and establish first that this lady is asleep, and secondly that there is no bed to admit her to, should she need it. Agreed that this case can wait until the morning – thankfully not everybody argues about these cases with us

2:45 Call from the hospital from A&E about a 15-year-old who has taken an overdose. She will be seen tomorrow morning on the paediatric ward. I hope she doesn’t need a mental health act assessment - I’m not sure we can find a bed for her, but I hope she’s okay.

4:10 Call from the police requesting secure accommodation for a young man who was picked up for burglary. Firstly, he doesn’t qualify for secure accommodation because he is not a risk to the public between now and when he must appear in court tomorrow morning. Secondly, at 4 am, there is no way I am going to be able to get him out of custody and into an alternative place for him to sleep. I reluctantly agree for him to stay in custody and to be taken to court in the morning.

6:15 I receive a call from a 16yr old hoping that I will find her independent accommodation away from her mother who she is arguing with. I explain I can try to find an emergency foster carer for now, but not independent accommodation. She sounds disappointed, but hopefully when we find something it will be okay for her.

7:30 Call from nursery schoolteacher who is worried about her neighbour’s children, given she has never seen them in person yet hears them. Both are under 4yrs old. This morning, the youngest was crying for three hours. I asked that she report her concerns to the police directly to correctly convey the level of concern that she has. Welfare check requested.

8:30 I contact the child abuse investigation team officer about the 16yr old who needed a welfare check. They still have had no contact with them. I email the multi-agency safeguarding hub to request this young person is discussed in their daily meeting on high risk cases.

9:15 I decide to have a final go at getting petrol - my gauge now says 27 miles remaining in the tank. Okay, here we go.

Learn more about EDTs:

Emergency Duty Team: The Forgotten Service? Webinar (June 2021)