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Call for social workers to be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccine

Today we have issued a letter to the Department for Education (DfE) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)

Call for social workers to be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccine

1/11/2021 3:00:00 PM

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have continued to discuss the vital role of social workers and their key worker status with our partnersToday, we have issued a letter to the Department for Education (DfE) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) expressing our view that all social workers must be prioritised alongside other health and social care staff in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

In guidance published on 30 December 2020, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVIidentified frontline social workers who provide care to vulnerable people as a high priority for vaccination, and recognises the risks that health, social care and social workers face in delivering services. It is right health and social care workers are being put at the front of the queue for a vaccine, however there is ambiguity on whether this covers all social workers. 

A copy of our letter can be viewed below.  

While we await a response and further guidance, we would suggest that social workers discuss any further COVID-19 vaccine related matters with their employers in the first instance, and that they continue to follow current government guidance. 

Letter to The Permanent Secretaries of the Department for Education and the Department for Health and Social Care 

Dear Susan and Sir Chris,  

I am writing with regard to access by frontline social workers to COVID-19 vaccines as part of the Government’s vaccine rollout: Phase 1 – direct prevention of mortality and supporting the NHS and social care system. 

Social workers across the profession have done incredible work to support some of the most vulnerable in our society during the pandemic, working across children and family services, mental health and adult social care including in care homes. This work has of course faced unprecedented challenges, but the commitment and dedication of frontline social workers has not dimmed. As you will appreciate, social work is a profession based on providing support and advocacy and minimising the risk of harm. To do this effectively requires building and sustaining personal relationships with service users. Despite huge advances in the use of virtual visits, face-to-face visits remain in many cases the best way to do this – involving for example visits to family homes or care homes. In the current national lockdown, and especially given the closure of schools, the risks of unseen harm increase and the face-to-face visits arguably become even more critical. 

The increased risk associated from delivering this personal care was recognised by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation: advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. Their guidance sensibly and helpfully said: 

“Health and social care workers - Frontline health and social care workers are at increased personal risk of exposure to infection with COVID-19 and of transmitting that infection to susceptible and vulnerable patients in health and social care settings. The committee considers frontline health and social care workers who provide care to vulnerable people a high priority for vaccination. Protecting them protects the health and social care service and recognises the risks that they face in this service.” 

I remain grateful for frontline health and social care included in the second order of priority in vaccine roll out. I do of course recognise the unique logistical challenges in delivering a vaccine nationwide at accelerated speed. However, I have recently been made aware of a significant number of concerns from social workers across the country that they have struggled to be able to access the vaccine. In short, that this prioritisation is not being delivered on the ground. There is ambiguity whether the ‘social care’ definition includes social workers, and in many areas the view seems to be that it does not. This lack of clarity and local inconsistency is worryingly preventing considerable numbers of frontline social workers from receiving the vaccine and putting them – and others – at unnecessary risk of infection.  

Our central focus as the regulator of social workers is public protection - to regulate social workers in England so that people receive the best possible support whenever they might need it in life. Our concern in this situation is that social workers are not being given the support needed to undertake their role within our communities and support and ultimately protect the public from harm. 

I would therefore be grateful for your support in making clear in vaccine delivery prioritisation that social workers are included in the healthcare and social care high order of priority to address the inconsistency. 

I am copying this letter to the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, and the Joint Chief Social Worker for Adults. 

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