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From The Socialist newspaper, 27 June 2018

Blairite cuts and restructures make social work dangerous

Social worker, photo WorldSkills UK/CC

Social worker, photo WorldSkills UK/CC   (Click to enlarge)

A Sheffield social worker

Our NHS is being dismantled piece by piece before our eyes. Meanwhile, something very similar is happening to adult social care.

In Sheffield, once again, the 'money-saving changes' the Blairite council is making within adult social care are like a wrecking ball destroying a building when none of the occupants have been evacuated.

This may sound dramatic, but we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the city being left at serious risk. I'm sure you'll start to see my point.

Over the last six years there have been three major changes to the structure of adult social care. A major restructure every two years. At what cost?

These supposed money-saving changes included the disbandment of specialist social work teams. All of these teams were multidisciplinary, meaning we worked alongside other health professionals to provide greater expertise and a more collaborative service.

Given that hospital admissions and delayed discharges are one of the greatest challenges to health and social care budgets, it doesn't take a genius to see that getting rid of teams like this has serious implications.

It has led to each respective body jealously guarding its own budget, while communication and relations between health care and social care feel at an all-time low.

The most recent restructure, rushed through in 2017, saw the disbandment of the specialist learning disability service, which has now been assimilated into the rest of adult social care - adults with physical disabilities, and older adults with mental health problems.

These are three enormously different and complex groups of service users.

Social workers have spent years and years developing skills, knowledge, expertise, and the teams that we feel secure and supported in.

We have now had our specialist teams pulled apart, and we are thrown back in a mix as 'generic' social workers.

This happened without any additional training. How are we expected to keep vulnerable people safe under these conditions?

Needless to say, the fallout was swift when it came to staff morale. A number of disillusioned managers left the service, while numerous deskilled and devalued frontline workers have either left or been signed off with stress.

So ultimately, there aren't enough staff left standing to manage caseload and keep people safe.

Over the past few years, the council has made efforts to demonstrate consideration of and consultation with frontline workers regarding major changes to the services, supposedly in recognition of us as experts in our own field.

However, those of us who have been around for a while know this is a facade.

We have spoken out against these rushed plans, which lack any foresight, time and time again. We have pointed out when changes won't work, that making these changes will just waste valuable budget because it will just need to be changed back again, that skills and confidence will be lost.

But the changes go ahead regardless - and, lo and behold, they don't work - and eventually we are returned to a more damaged and dysfunctional version of what we had before.

This is a situation where legislation cannot be followed, mistakes will be made, cases go to court, valuable budget is lost - and people end up injured, or worse.

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In The Socialist 27 June 2018:


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