Agency social worker ban has been announced in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister has declared agency social workers will be offered permanent contracts ahead of the ban set for June 2023.      

Northern Ireland’s Chief Social Worker, Aine Morrison, has welcomed the decision, writing in a letter to her colleagues, ‘it is my belief that bringing an end to recruitment agency use will help to achieve a much more stable and consistent social work workforce’, in a letter to the government. 

However, even though Ms Morrison believes the decision will bring positive outcomes, she recognises newly qualified social workers will feel ‘considerable anxiety’ without a safety net of agency work. 

Ms Morrison said: ‘I want to reassure you that we will take a measured and planned approach to making the necessary changes, which will also consider and mitigate against any risks arising.

‘The Department of Health will be working closely with the HSC Trusts and trade unions representatives to deliver on this plan.’

Rates of agency social worker use across Northern Ireland is lower than in England, with the Department of Education reporting that 15.5% of children’s social worker posts in local authorities and trusts have been filled by locums as of September last year.

The Northern Irish Health and Social Trust have said that currently have 17 agency workers, while the southern trust said it has less than 10 out of over 800 registered social workers.   

Following a recent review of the workforce, Ms Morrison said other support measures will be put in place. 

She said: ‘These include continued work on safe staffing, career pathways, training, supervision and social work staff wellbeing.’

In response to the news, Noeleen Higgins from the British Association of Social Workers in Northern Ireland said she hoped the measures introduced to help the sector would address ‘unacceptably high vacancy rates’, which had created an ‘over reliance on agency staff to plug gaps.’ 

She continues, ‘Where there is high staff turnover and reliance on agency social workers on temporary contracts, the relationships which are central to provision of high-quality social work services cannot be formed.

‘As a result, the individuals and families who use social work services are impacted negatively.

‘To ensure retention of existing staff and support the integration of agency social workers it is vital the Department also takes forward at pace its other pledged workforce support measures.’

Photo by Damien Perez


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top