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BASW NI Update on the Coronavirus Bill

The Coronavirus Bill will make modifications to the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 and the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 in respect of detention and deprivation of liberty.

Given the existing shortage of Approved Social Workers (ASW) across the Health and Social Care Trusts and the anticipated impacts on the social work workforce during the COVID-19 crisis, BASW NI accepts as necessary, the proposed changes to both pieces of legislation to enable relevant social workers to fulfil the functions currently performed by ASWs.

In our response to the Department of Health’s consultation on development of amended codes of practice for both pieces of legislation BASW NI highlights:

  • The importance of ensuring the definition of relevant social worker is not extended beyond those social workers who have 5 years’ experience in the last 10 working with people who lack capacity.
  • Given the significant responsibility conferred on ASWs there is clear need for the Department of Health to provide training to relevant social workers. We have also sought information concerning how this training will be delivered during the current health crisis.
  • The right to liberty and self-determination is a fundamental human right and even in times of acute civic emergency these rights must be protected and safeguarded. The right of professionals to hold someone against their will under mental health legislation must only ever be for the shortest time possible and BASW NI is concerned by the extension of doctors’ holding powers from to 12 hours to 120 hours.
  • There is an opportunity for HSC Trusts to recruit independent social workers who were previously ASWs or those whose ASW status has recently lapsed.
  • Ideally a 3-month limit (maximum 6 month) should be set for review of the emergency measures.
  • A simplified process would be helpful in cases where there is no identified nominated person for individuals subject to detention under the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.
  • The existing policy for cross-boundary working for ASWs should be relaxed.
  • AFC Band 6 social workers who step into the new role must be appropriately remunerated.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be made available to social workers, with social workers treated with the same priority as healthcare colleagues.