ENGLAND – Social worker killed herself after restructure caused workload to increase

Fear of losing the transitions co-ordinator job she had worked so hard to get put Julie Dugdale in a “highly stressful” situation, the coroner said.

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A social worker committed suicide after her department was restructured and the pressures of her job reached unbearable levels, an inquest has heard.

Julie Dugdale was found hanged at her home in Clitheroe, Lancashire, where she lived with her husband and two children, in November last year.

Dugdale joined Lancashire council’s transitions service in 2010 as a newly qualified social worker. Last summer, her department was re-organised and she was required to reapply for her job as a co-ordinator.

She was successful, but the inquest last week at Blackburn Coroner’s Court heard that, after her department was restructured, her workload intensified and became more reliant on IT systems.

Her husband told the inquest his wife became “noticeably preoccupied” with her job after retaining her post. He also said she had been having problems with a remote access IT system that had been introduced.

“She wasn’t able to get through her workload without putting in extra work at home and then, with the problems with IT, her hands were tied,” said Mr Dugdale. “She wasn’t able to sleep for the last five nights of her life.”

Dugdale went to her GP, was put on a course of medication and given two weeks off work. But the next day she was found dead by family members.

Deputy coroner Elaine Block said: “The catalyst in this case was her situation at work. Her home life was stable, but she found it very difficult to cope with the situation, her workload and the problems the workload was bringing.”

Block said the fear of losing the job she had worked so hard to get put Dugdale in a highly stressful situation. “It seems to me that Mrs Dugdale was a sensitive and conscientious person who had worked hard to get where she was and when she got there it was as though she had everything taken away from her. She took the situation she found herself in very much to heart.

“This was not a cry for help, it was an action she meant to have consequences and the only verdict I can return is that she killed herself while the balance of her mind was disturbed.”

Lancashire council, which has criticised the coroner’s office for refusing to provide a transcript of the inquest because it could be used to learn lessons, said the restructuring had not increased Dugdale’s caseload in terms of numbers, but had resulted in her having a “wider monitoring role”.

Her department had not been at full strength in the months before her death because a colleague was on maternity leave and another staff member was in the process of being recruited. It also confirmed Dugdale had problems using her laptop to access information remotely.

Mike Banks, head of active intervention and safeguarding, said: “We were all shocked and deeply saddened by Julie’s death and our thoughts remain with her family and friends at this very difficult time.

“We know social work is often a stressful job, so we keep a careful eye on our social workers via regular supervisions sessions, team meetings and through developmental work, to help them deal with the everyday pressures of what can be difficult and challenging work.”

A council spokesman said Dugdale had received appropriate supervision together with developmental support and guidance: “We follow the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force. Where appropriate, we carry out individual stress risk assessments and continue to look at other ways to help reduce pressures in response to the health check surveys we conduct with our social workers.”

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SOURCE: Community Care

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