An adult social worker discusses how budget cuts and legislative changes mean those in his profession now spend more time on paperwork than looking after people in need
"I recently picked up the phone and braced myself for a lengthy conversation about the fate of a man soon to be discharged from hospital. It’s always frustrating calling the advocacy service, which, in its role of helping vulnerable people access services, will have to be involved in any decisions relating this man’s care.
Like most of the people I work with, the man has a mental disability. To meet the 28-day government target for assessing a person’s care needs, I need to assess his requirements, but according to recent changes under the new Care Act, he also needs an advocate to support him through the process. And, of course, there’s a four-week waiting list for an advocate.
It wasn’t long after I became an adult social worker 12 years ago that I realised how much seemingly inconsequential things can make a difference to people. The best part of my job has always been interacting with those I support, and I’ve seen first-hand the impact a simple conversation and a cup of tea can have on someone who hasn’t left the house for many years.
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But, while I still love going out to see people, nowadays I have very little time to do so. My current employer is a large local authority in the South West and I manage what’s called an integrated team, comprising nurses, occupational therapists, social workers and case coordinators. As a result, a lot of my day revolves around assigning work and allocating the diminishing team spend.
But the thing that takes up most of my time and energy is “negotiating” with other organisations. With budget cuts, staff shortages and greater demands on social workers, I find myself constantly battling with other services over who is responsible for the very people I became a social worker to support. While my team would like to support every person in need of assistance, the government’s 28-day assessment target means we just cannot do this and meet targets at the same time.
Changes to legislation over the last decade also mean nearly all social workers now spend more time on paperwork than on interacting with patients themselves – the 2005 Mental Capacity Act, for instance, has had a major impact on our relationships with people. Introduced to protect people’s rights, the act means that much of our time is now spent preparing cases for court hearings and working with barristers and solicitors to present the case for someone to be made safe from harm.
I’m all for protecting people’s rights – I wouldn’t have got into social work if I wasn’t – but the amount of paperwork and time a court case can take eats up a huge proportion of our working lives. For each case, you’re probably looking at five days’ work writing court reports, visiting people in hospital, dealing with barristers and solicitors. And it doesn’t stop there. With a growing pressure to ensure people needing social care are moved on from hospital as quickly as possible, social workers are now scrambling to either pull a package of care together in time, or produce a watertight case to justify why that person must stay in hospital while they wait for these packages.
With greater overcrowding of hospitals, we are caught between a rock and a hard place. The four-hour target for A&E to clear patients means people are forever knocking at our door. This means we’re constantly having to produce care packages as quickly as possible to ensure those who don’t require hospital assistance are not needlessly filling a bed.
The Pioneer Status which tasked 14 local authorities – including my own – to come up with innovative ideas to integrate health and social care gave me some hope. However, although we came up with a raft of measures to reduce documentation and bring back the personal focus by linking with the voluntary sector, nobody was prepared to put any money into it.
I still love working in social services, but until we have a proper integrated budget and more support, my days will continue to be filled with paperwork and battles over money rather than the face-to-face support I used to enjoy."