Engage: What the past two years have taught us about data in adult social care

The past two years have seen unprecedented challenges for the care sector, from the impact of COVID-19, to recruitment and retention challenges, and evolving government policy.

Dave Griffiths, Programme Head of Workforce Intelligence at Skills for Care reflects on how important access to comprehensive data has been for the sector during this time and what we’ve learned about data collection.

Watching the news over the summer of 2020, I was amazed to see data was still being updated and provided to us by care providers facing the most terrible situations. However, we’ve been using that data to help show the scope and scale of the challenges the sector has faced and continues to face.

The Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS) is an online service where social care providers can share data about their workforce. Skills for Care’s analysis team uses ASC-WDS to create a clear picture of the social care sector in England.

The power of workforce data

Skills for Care has been collecting workforce data since long before the pandemic, but the need to understand the sector and the workforce has never been greater than in the past 24 months.

We were able to use the data provided to us by care providers to help the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to understand how many vaccines would be needed in the sector and considerations for roll out. It’s also allowed us to monitor changes in sickness and vacancy rates which has helped highlight the crisis being felt by care providers. Both are higher than pre-pandemic, with an average of 8.5 days lost of sickness and 9.8% vacancies reported in February 2022.

Our intelligence has been used to inform recent official inquiries and policy changes. It was used in the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s workforce burnout and resilience inquiry considering the impact on service delivery, staff, and people who draw on care services. The committee are also using our evidence in their ongoing work to look at recruitment, training, and retention in the sector.

New immigration policies have also come into effect over the past few years. During the Migration Advisory Committee’s review of the impact of ending freedom of movement, data provided by Skills for Care was integral in highlighting the important role that non-British workers play in our social care sector. The resulting recommendation that care workers and home carers be made eligible for the Health and Care Worker visa was subsequently agreed by the government.

Looking ahead

The past two years have changed the way we use data. We have invested time in data engineering so we can report more frequently and more accurately. During a time when social care needed extra support, decision making was rapid, and providers had limited capacity, so drawing on existing sources of intelligence was crucial.

The recently published social care reform white paper outlines the government’s plans for the social care sector, and data is an important element of this.

They have identified that to support social care reform, there needs to be high-quality and timely data available nationally, regionally, and locally to help identify best practice and address areas of improvement. They want to ensure that the data which is collected is shared more widely so that those in the sector have intelligence needed to operate effectively and deliver improved outcomes for those receiving care and support.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working to establish an adult social care data framework by spring 2022, setting out what data the sector needs to collect, and why, where, how, and by whom it’s collected. It will set out how to improve the quality of data and rationalise collections.

As we move forward into the next stages of working and living alongside COVID-19 access to clear and effective data will continue to play an ever more important role in shaping and guiding the sector, and I’m pleased to be part of that.

 About The Author

Dave Griffiths, BA (Hons), MSc is Programme Lead – Workforce Intelligence at Skills For Care. Dave has over 10 years of experience leading the team and working with adult social care data, particularly organisational and workforce data.

He has worked on projects with the Department of Health and Social Care, health bodies, integration sites, the Care Quality Commission, local authorities, higher education institutions and many other analysis projects.