A trade union official says social workers and assistants in the Western Trust are having to manage dangerously high workloads and that he has formally complained to the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC).
Alan Law made the comments as health workers from Londonderry and Limavady embarked on a one day strike on Friday (May 16).
At a picket outside the Waterside health centre workers from across the Primary Care and Older People’s Directorate attempted to highlight what they regard as excessive case loads.
Mr Law told the Sentinel: “The crisis has reached this point because we’ve been trying to get management to acknowledge that there’s a problem and they are refusing to do anything about it.
“The staff here are professionally qualified social workers. They’re all expected to register with the NISCC and follow their guidelines and what their guidelines say is that you should only practice safely and manage case loads, which they are able to do safely.”
He said he believes the situation has reached the stage where “it’s not safe, where it’s unsafe work and we want the Trust to do something about it.”
“We’ve been asking the Trust to help develop a caseload weighting model and they’re refusing to do that without all the other Trusts in Northern Ireland going together on the same issue.
“Now we feel that’s a very irresponsible way to go ahead because if the crisis has reached this point where people are taking industrial action we believe it needs resolved now without waiting for some major issue to occur and an inquiry needing to take place.”
On Friday (May 16) protests took place across the Western Trust with pickets in the Waterside, Omagh and the South West Hospital.
“The Trust’s position is they feel there’s nothing they can do...our view is that there are vacancies and posts, they’re the ones that need to start recruiting people to the posts.
“These two teams here and the team in Limavady have had no manager to supervise their work for nearly six months and they’re supposed to get monthly supervision to make sure that everything’s going according to plan. To me that’s even irresponsible.”
Asked if he believed it was dangerous he replied: “Very dangerous. I today have made a formal complaint to the RQIA and also the NISCC asking them to investigate this chaos.”
Mr Law told the Sentinel the strike will be followed up by workers refusing to cover vacancies and absences and working to rule if there is no resolution.
“We cannot continue with people working unsafely,” he told the paper.
A spokesperson for the Western Trust said: “The Western Trust is working closely with local union representatives to minimise any disruption to services during planned strike action today (Friday 16 May) of community based social workers working within older people’s services.
“Affected social work offices within the Trust can still be contacted and essential services will be maintained. Any clients potentially affected by the industrial action will be contacted directly.”