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COVID-19: BASW urges PPE and priority testing for social workers

Social workers should be included in the list of priority groups for coronavirus testing, BASW has urged.

In a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, BASW chief executive Ruth Allen and chair Geraldine Nosowska highlighted that many social work teams are depleted because colleagues need to self-isolate. Vulnerable service users also need assurance that their social workers can visit them in their home without the risk of infection.

“Including social workers in the list for priority testing is thus essential for the provision of on-going services,” the letter continued.

The letter came after it was reported that a social worker employee at Southwark Council in London had died after contracting the coronavirus.

BASW, which represents over 21,000 members, said they had received more than 1,500 responses about the challenges they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the most pressing concern being the issue of safety.

The letter outlined that social workers, alongside colleagues in health and residential care, need government guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) urgently. BASW acknowledged that while some social work can be done via phone and teleconferencing, seeing in people in their homes is central to the social work task.

Social workers can see up to a dozen or more service users a day and currently there is a lack of even basic hand sanitiser, leaving social workers concerned for service user’s and their own safety. Measures are being applied unevenly across different local authorities and workplaces and there is a need for clearer guidance that can be applied uniformly. There is also an urgent need for essential guidance on safety for home visits during the pandemic.

Indeed, in a recent interview with WillisPalmer, frontline social worker Rita Long said that there was a lack of any safety equipment or basic hand sanitiser in the workplace and, while the authority encouraged staff to clean down their work stations at the end of each day, no cleaning materials had been provided to enable them to do this.

BASW also called for additional support to vulnerable groups. While many public health messages need to be aimed at the majority, BASW’s concern is also with the minorities. The letter explained that victims of domestic abuse may be trapped with their abuser, there may be undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees whose first language is not English and may therefore miss crucial health guidance, the street homeless who may be unable to self- isolate. While a number of initiatives are already underway, such as the instruction to local authorities to house all street homeless by last weekend, which are welcome, the government should “redouble efforts with reaching out to these groups”.

“For social workers to do their work efficiently and compassionately they must be safe, we therefore look forward to receiving guidance on PPE, followed by the necessary equipment,” the letter concluded.

The letter to the prime minister is here.

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