Chat Opinion

What keeps me awake at night … Oonagh Smyth, CEO, Skills for Care

Oonagh Smyth, CEO, Skills for Care

Like many others at the minute the things that keep me awake are sometimes personal, worry about my family and missing them, and sometimes work related. It all stems from my desire that people are happy and healthy.

With the wider social care sector I experience moments of real sadness when I hear about how hard it is at the moment, with people not being visited by their families, staff trying to balance multiple demands in their personal and professional life and the worry that is hanging over everyone. I also experience moments of hope and pride in social care when I hear about the wonderful things that are happening in the sector and the relationships being built and maintained, the extent to which colleagues in social care are going to keep people well. The vaccine provides some hope that the end is in sight.

I do sleep better knowing we have done so much to support employers during this time online, and through our area teams who have really adapted to working remotely. We have been able to use our learning about the digital world to offer a whole range of free online tools from how to use WhatsApp effectively to a comprehensive digital leadership as we build on the increased use of technology across the sector and we have been able to respond to new needs for support quickly.

While sometimes the virus is all-consuming, there are elements of the future that I also think about. They often get put into the “important but not urgent” pile and I understand that but without working on them now it is hard to see how we will be ready when they become urgent. The one number that should concern us all is we still have around 112,000 vacancies on any given day. If the social care workforce grows proportionally to the projected number of people aged 65 and over in the population then we need to fill up to an extra 520,000 roles by 2035.

While we wait for longer-term reform of social care, there are things that employers can do and are doing to think about the future. Employers are using the tools they access via their Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set account which support them to benchmark themselves against other providers to see where they need to focus in terms of key areas of learning, development, succession planning and wages. Employers are using our predictive analysis in our State of the Adult Social Care Workforce report which helps them think about the things that increase the likelihood of people leaving within the next 12-months, and they are developing plans based on this information to reduce this risk. Employers are using our support to help with values-based recruitment which we know improves retention rates because people are recruited who have the personal qualities and experiences that make them great care workers.

If we want to sleep soundly over the next year, five years and – yes – ten years we need to develop a strategy that means we know what our growing sector will be able to deliver who people who need care and support throughout that period – and beyond.  We need a short-term solution that stabilises the sector while at the same time building a future which includes sustainable funding, and which understands that a capable and confident workforce will always underpin high quality service provision.

This is a critical period for our sector as we build on the greater public appreciation of what our workforce has achieved over the last few months keeping people safe and well in the most difficult of circumstances. We are working with a wide range of partners to help develop a strategic plan, including a people plan for social care, that will address the structural issues across the sector the virus has laid bare.

I have given up trying to predict anything with the current context, but I have a sense that if we leave 2021 with an agreed strategy and a sense of the future, then I think everyone who has the best interests of the people we support will rest a lot more easily in their beds.



Edel Harris





Dementia Ad

Email Newsletter