NIASW rallies against ‘unacceptable’ cuts to on-call payments

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) has condemned plans to slash on-call payments made to social workers by around 60%, branding the plans “utterly unacceptable”.

The new Health and Social Care On Call arrangements, which will slash the allowance for each on-call period of at least 12 hours from £60 to £23, were agreed by the Joint Negotiating Forum in Northern Ireland. Commenting on the reforms, NIASW deputy chair Gerry Madden, who is also a senior social worker, said they would impact on the availability of staff to carry out vital social work practice. “We are dismayed that the Joint Negotiating Forum of the Health and Social Care Board considers it appropriate to reduce the modest payments to social workers for being on-call,” he said.

Mr Madden drew particular attention to clause six of the proposals which outlines the scope of those to whom the changes would apply, commenting: “GPs are apparently exempt from these cuts and will continue to be paid considerably in excess of the rates paid to social workers out of hours – sometimes for simply providing their advice.”

A NIASW statement on the reform outlined the role out of hours services play within society: ‘Social workers are involved vital decisions, concerning such life-impacting issues as the compulsory admission to hospital of a mentally ill person or the removal of a child from his or her home. Those social workers who undertake these roles, out of hours, often do so in situations of extreme urgency and potential physical risk, where there is minimal line management availability for consultation over what are invariably, critical matters of personal and professional judgment.’

The changes, set for a phased introduction in October 2011 ahead of full implementation in March 2012, come against a backdrop of widespread cuts to social work services in Northern Ireland with the Assembly tightening health and social services budgets in an attempt to save at least £800m by 2015, a move that has resulted in possible strike action planned for early October.