The thoughts and reflections of Aine Morrison, Chief Social Worker for Northern Ireland, as we celebrate 75 years of the NHS.
By Aine Morrison
Chief Social Worker
Today is World Social Work Day. It’s a day that is about celebrating and promoting the profession’s contribution to individuals, families, communities and society. It’s also a day of renewing the social work commitment to social justice and human rights.
And for me as Chief Social Worker, it’s a day for thanking all the social workers in Northern Ireland for their commitment to improving the lives of the people they support.
I was very struck recently by someone describing their experience of having a social worker and the difference it made. They said: “I mattered. It was about me being the best of me. Gave me the encouragement to fight for what was right…”
There are 6,529 social workers in Northern Ireland, working across a variety of different settings and roles, but we all share a common purpose of improving and safeguarding the social wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.
We do this by empowering people to manage their own lives, by promoting people’s independence, by supporting their social inclusion and by helping people to keep safe and well.
In this 75th anniversary year of the NHS, I reflect on the similarity between the NHS’ founding ambition of equal access to health care for all, and social work ethics that emphasise the respect each human being is due and the need to challenge inequality and discrimination.
In Northern Ireland, the NHS provides integrated health and social care services and I’m a believer in the value of that.
Integration isn’t without its challenges, but I think it supports us to understand the complex interplay between physical, mental, and social wellbeing and respond better to the needs of the whole person.
Social work brings the social wellbeing perspective to the table.
It's that belief in the fundamental principles of both the NHS and social work that sustains me in the midst of all the pressures that we’re currently experiencing.
However, principles alone are insufficient. It’s important that we create the conditions in which social workers can abide by those principles.
I’m very conscious of the extent of the pressures and I’m very committed to improving the working environment for social work across a whole range of issues including stress, risk, caseload size, staffing levels, working hours, work-life balance, support and development.
I don’t underestimate the extent of the challenge, but I’m always motivated and inspired by the many wonderful examples of social work I see, even in the midst of the pressures.
Just in the last few weeks, I attended the 10th annual Social Work and Social Care Research Conference, an award ceremony for social workers completing quality improvement training, and an early World Social Work Day celebration of coproduction in social work. On each occasion, I have been really impressed by what I have seen.
I’ll sign off with another quote from someone with lived experience of social work who describes the hope she was given: “Hope – they listened to me and valued my thoughts and feelings. They helped me take back control of my life.”
The social work I see gives me hope and confidence in the positive difference our profession can make to people’s lives.
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