Our adult social care system is in crisis and the impact it is having on our hospitals is disastrous.
I am a frontline service manager of a hospital social work team and in eight years of working in this area I have never seen it so bad.
My team are the social workers who meet families at their lowest, when their loved ones are in their dying days and all hope is lost. We are there at times when people are coming to terms with the grim reality that life is drawing to a close for them or their dear family members. Our social workers are there to support people who are facing illness, the rapid onset of death and the loss of all the things that made them who they once were.
My staff are also the ones who are tasked with assessing support levels and what care a person needs to help them ideally return home, or move into care placements. These placements can barely break even because the local councils pay less than half of what it costs to care for people. This sees costs being passed back to the individual, despite all the tax they have paid down the years, or their families. Homes are often put up for sale shortly after we find these placements.
My staff are the ones who assess a person’s mental capacity to make decisions about all manner of things to do with their life. They are the ones who investigate safeguarding issues when abuse happens and our clients come through our hospital’s accident and emergency department because of it.
My staff are the ones who get pushed to their limits, who are expected to complete extensively detailed assessments within the same day they come in so that the client can hopefully leave hospital sometime this month (because same day discharge is near impossible).
My staff are the ones who get repeatedly spoken to by fellow professionals like they are the lowest of the low because we bear the brunt of everyone’s frustration at the total lack of community services that lead to acute beds being blocked. I hate the term ‘bed blockers’. These aren’t ‘bed blockers’, they are people with nowhere else safe to go to.
These acute beds being ‘blocked’ are fewer than ever, in hospitals that are more grossly understaffed than ever before.
Acute beds that hold the most complex and frail comorbidities in patients’ health issues because modern medicine keeps people living longer and longer.
And yet my staff are the ones who keep coming in, working all the hours God sends, and somehow finding a positivity to keep calm and carry on amid of this chaos.
I often worry that we are getting close to all these wonderful people, who have chosen to give their working lives to social work, breaking down and leaving not only their jobs with us in the hospital, but the profession entirely.
The sad truth is that all of us in health and social care are being slowly but surely broken
This truth is mirrored in the cold hard reality that people are dying in corridors and the NHS itself is slowly dying and, having pushed it to the edge of the precipice, the Government appears to now be sealing the deal by failing to adequately invest in social care. This chronic underfunding means that the pressure and pace in hospital social work teams is at such an intense level that patients are undoubtedly placed at risk of harm because decisions are rushed and mistakes are made by staff who are extremely stressed.
I am scared for my future. I am scared for the future of all my colleagues across health and social care. I am scared for the future of all the patients we work with.
We don’t need plans from NHS England, we need them to listen to those at the frontline who are living, breathing and crying because of this every day. We need action and we need funds to support this, not cuts. We can’t bear the brunt of any more cuts without going under for good.
‘Winter Pressures’ are no longer an issue because the crisis is now all year round.
If we are to keep people safe at all, something must change.
Care staff are paid close to minimum wage on a zero hours basis. Agencies and homes can’t afford to pay them more because Councils pay them so little, but then the agencies can’t recruit so rotas can’t be covered and people can’t go home from hospital because there is no care waiting for them.
It’s all very simple and it doesn’t take an executive on half a million pounds a year to come up with a solution to this crisis. Invest more money in the sector, respect the workers for what they are doing and let us do our job in a way that not only protects people, but supports their choice and basic rights to live in a way they wish.
When asked by friends to tell them what it’s like to work this way, I have often struggled to find words to explain how it feels to be in hospitals that are so utterly broken, but enraged, devastated and beyond angry are a start.
People need to realise just how bad it is, and the message needs to be understood that our NHS and entire adult social care system is falling apart. This crisis has been years in the making and only emergency surgery can save it now.
This article is an excerpt from ‘The Truth About Social Work’, the best-selling debut book from Social Work Tutor. The book is available on Amazon.