Hackney social workers "burnt out" after traumatic 12 months, report says
Jacob Dirnhuber, Local Democracy Reporter
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Budget cuts, the pandemic, and October’s cyber attack have left Hackney’s “burnt out” social workers on the brink of mutiny, official reports have warned.
Explosive revelations in Hackney Council’s Risk Reviews and supplementary documents to Audit Committee meetings have shown the challenge facing town hall leaders.
The publicly available reports from auditors warn council bosses to brace for mass resignations and potential lawsuits. This is after it emerged that the loss of a key database left them unable to ensure the “safety of service users and staff”.
The adult social care (ASC) team lost access to case-management database Mosaic shortly after the hack was discovered.
The programme logs data collected by caseworkers on thousands of vulnerable service users – and comes with a warning system that identifies residents who pose a potential threat to staff.
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But an estimated five years’ worth of data was wiped when a gang of hackers broke into the council’s servers last autumn.
The council’s IT team worked to set up an interim database – but a report on risks facing the council warned it could be “many months” before the system is back online with full data.
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Under an entry marked “Insufficient information to safely run the service”, the report warned: “Due to the loss of Mosaic in the cyber attack, ASC is using an interim social care database, with limited historical service user data.
“This provides a significant risk to adult services – both ensuring safety of service users and to staff.”
It added that the council could find itself open to “judicial review or legal challenge” if it became “unable to complete statutory returns or provide relevant information needed”.
And social care boss Helen Woodland told councillors in the report that “staff safety remains compromised until all warning information is restored”.
She also revealed that it took until April for staff to regain access to case notes – meaning care workers were forced to make life-changing decisions with inadequate information.
When quizzed at an April audit meeting about the risks of care staff leaving, Woodland admitted that workers were finding it “really very difficult” to cope with the cyber attack aftermath.
She said: “The risk to staff retention around the cyberattack is the level of professional risk that we’re asking individuals to carry, because if they do not have the background of a case they do not have some understanding of the situation.
“But we are still asking them to make a professional judgement about what is best for that individual without having all of the information to do that.
“Some of our staff find that really very difficult.”
Social workers leaving is currently regarded as one of the biggest threats to the council.
The official risk register notes that social workers are “burnt out” by the “relentlessness” demands of the pandemic and “dissatisfied” with the response to the cyber attack.
It also warned that “financial and reputational risk” is leading to an “inability to attract and retain a stable, high calibre workforce for key roles within adult services”.
The report added: “The cyber attack in particular has been cited as a key reason for a number of permanent social work staff leaving [the council]. A number of roles remain unfilled, and recruitment remains challenging.”
The council is also facing financial pressures due to a ballooning deficit with a round of staffing and funding cuts.
A June audit of the council’s financial risks revealed that government cuts and Covid-19 led to a staggering 41 per cent reduction in the council’s spending power from 2010/11 to 2021/11 – a £180million loss in real terms.
It warned that further cuts are “necessary” if the town hall is to “meet the financial challenges ahead”.
The report read: “Another risk resulting from austerity measures is the impact it is having on staffing levels and accompanying restructures.
“This could clearly impact on how efficiently staff are able to work, and whether they have the resources to do it effectively.
“To meet the financial challenges ahead, it will be necessary for the council to have a more agile workforce and not one constrained by traditional customs and practices.”
Hackney council however, state that the warnings come from a document that identifies worst case scenarios and possible responses to them. It says that a number of mitigations have been put in place including enhanced professional supervision, multi-disciplinary team meetings and greater support from partners to provide relevant information as required from the Police and NHS.
Cllr Chris Kennedy added: “This past year, looking after our most vulnerable residents has been a mammoth task for our social care workforce – from the global pandemic and the impacts it has had on our most vulnerable residents, through to the need to adapt to home working and then the cyber attack that damaged council systems. It has been a lot to work through, and I am proud and amazed by how our staff have responded. Caring for our residents has been at the forefront of everything they have done.
“Our aim over the next few months is to support our staff in the recovery phase of these two crises, using their views to help improve the way we work going forward. Since the committee report in April we have made further progress with our recovery from the cyberattack, and are continuing to work hard to restore the systems and data that our teams need. We are doing everything in our power to ensure our staff are safe and well supported to do their roles.”