My first ever job as a qualified social worker was in a large inner city teaching hospital. It was an excellent start to my career. It was fast paced, demanding and a great opportunity to develop skills and confidence working in a multi-disciplinary team. So I am very pleased to welcome hospital based social worker Rhiannon Hudd from Wiltshire Social Care as my guest blogger this week.
Social work in hospital settings is busy, rewarding and requires us to take a holistic approach to ensuring a person's health and care needs are met as effectively as possible, in the midst of a system set up to treat conditions with the greatest efficiency. So, no pressure there then! Thanks to Rhiannon for providing her reflections.
Having spent my final placement as a social work student in an acute hospital environment, to then return as an agency employee and later, level 2 ASYE, I feel I now have a comprehensive understanding of how social workers and health professionals can be integrated within multidisciplinary teams.
As a student, when I was told where my final placement would be, I recall thinking: ‘A hospital? I didn’t know they had social workers in hospitals!’ Now, almost three years down the line, this continues to be a common reaction when I describe my work setting to people.
As a hospital based social worker working in acute settings, it takes considerable efforts to build rapport with health colleagues in order to maintain effective working relationships. After all, these are the individuals we rely on for the evidence to build into our assessments.
During my time as a student, I recall referring to social and medical theory on various occasions. Today, as a fully-fledged practitioner in acute environments, I reflect this theory in my practice on a daily basis, even if it is not always at the forefront of my thinking.
The role of social workers in acute hospital settings, in my opinion, cannot be easily summarised. The nature of these environments means our work often goes above and beyond what is typically expected. For example:
- working to achieve a safe discharge plan that is considered the ‘best outcome’ for the service user
- taking into consideration their views and wishes
- balancing complex family dynamics often at point of crisis
- upholding our roles and values in advocating best interests and wishes of the service user.
All this in busy environments that can place vulnerable people at risk of becoming institutionalised. It is a huge challenge. To then add the expectation that we must have all the above in place by the time acute medical teams deem individuals ‘medically fit for discharge’ makes things tricky!
We must also consider the requirements of daily practice which include:
- timely assessment writing
- completing evidence based mental capacity assessments
- working with multiple professionals, families and community based colleagues to maintain support networks enabling safe and sustainable discharge for the service user.
In an environment where professional judgement should be challenged on a daily basis, but where it may seem ‘easier’ to accept the medical team’s authority without question, it remains paramount that our passion for supporting the service user remains the focus of our assessments.
We must strive to uphold the values, principles and duties of social work to make sure service users do not lose their voice within the complex and fast changing environment of acute health and social care.
Despite the constant pressure, ongoing challenges, difficult conversations and complex cases, ultimately, I feel blessed. I feel blessed to be in a role that brings a network of support to individuals that need it most and I feel pride every time I hear the words ‘I don’t know how you do that job’.
As a hospital social worker I feel we are the ‘gel’ that holds together and coordinates a large support network within the complex task of discharge planning. We are the signposts, the advocates, the mediators and the professionals tasked with upholding legal frameworks.
Social work is a vital and forever changing profession. I feel proud to continue supporting individuals to the best of my creativity and knowledge, at a time when the challenges facing me, my colleagues and those we seek to help, are even greater than ever.
Rhiannon Hudd is a social worker at Wiltshire Social Care, Brunel Treatment Centre, Great Western Hospital in Swindon