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The changing perception of care in the wake of coronavirus

Mental health social worker Daniel Wilding says the pandemic has seen a seismic shift in how social care is viewed

Coronavirus, social work, stories, videos, poems, photographs
Daniel Wilding

Professional Social Work magazine - 11 May, 2020. Share your COVID-19 experiences here.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic hitting the United Kingdom, I have noticed a seismic shift in the perception of care.

I am a social worker with nearly four years of post-qualifying experience working as a community mental health practitioner and practice supervisor.

When the news first broke that coronavirus had spread to the UK, my attitude was to use humour. I sung an adaptation of the song ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack. My fiancée thought it was funny, at first. However, after several renditions of the chorus: ‘When you gonna give me some? / Gonna give me some of your time Corona’, her feeling changed to annoyance.

I realised my use of humour was a coping strategy. I was using it to deal with working in this unprecedented situation, facing uncertainty my multi-disciplinary colleagues and I had not felt before. Our team was already struggling to deliver services due to sickness, leave, and nurse shortages. Now, we were faced with the challenge of COVID-19.

Management informed me that I needed to go and work from home. We were overworked, underresourced and only had the standard alcohol gel as personal protective equipment.

Arguably, we were and are underpaid for being expected to visit those people extremely vulnerable to the virus, with only social distancing guidance and the aforementioned hand gel as protection from contracting the virus ourselves.

Prior to moving into the newly formed Mental Health Community Support Team, the risks were high for all in the team to contract the virus. The potential impact on our own wellbeing, as well as that of our clients and our significant others was clear. We were putting our lives at risk to keep safe and well those adults recovering from severe and enduring mental illness we serve.

Initially, I felt excitement at the opportunity to work from home. However, after a week of adhering to the stay at home policy, the novelty wore off. I felt a profound empathy with the service users on my caseload. The social isolation a lot of people feel daily, I felt because of the mental impact this virus is having on the public health of our nation and internationally.

So, the changing perception of care in the wake of coronavirus began as a personal one. I began to notice, see and hear a perceptual shift towards care more widely.

When I called service users they began asking after my welfare and encouraging me to look after myself. Perhaps the virus has encouraged a perceptual reversal: the cared for became the caring, the professional carers became cared by. I found myself reflecting that our experience of the coronavirus pandemic is a relational and a shared human one.

Afterwards, I began to hear stories of ‘Clap for Carers’. Alas, there was no ‘Clap for Social Workers’. Local shops, closed due to the stay at home directive, displayed the message ‘Thank you key workers’. Children drew pictures displayed in the windows of homes with words ‘Thank you NHS’. Photographs of a mural thanking social workers appeared on Twitter.

Following his period of treatment in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly thanked the nurses from Portugal and New Zealand who nursed him back to good health.

The narrative towards care, social work and the allied health professions is changing. I, for one, hope this positive change in public perception to care and our profession can be sustained once the spread of coronavirus has been contained and all our lives can return to what might be a brave new world. A world in which social work and social workers are valued for the amazing people we are.

Do you have experiences, thoughts or feelings of social work during the COVID-19 pandemic you would like to share with Professional Social Work magazine? Click here to find out how

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.