Jun 17

From ink to click – celebrating 10 years of the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC) online

Posted: 26 June 2017

Skills For Care Project Manager Lee Stribling talks about NMDS-SC's journey from paper to the web.

Over the past 10 years thousands of adult social care employers have set up and maintained National Minimum Data Set ( NMDS-SC) accounts, - initially some with more success than others. 

In the early days when the system was mainly paper based, employers would complete worker and establishment records on paper and send these off in batches to Skills for Care in Leeds where a team of staff would input all the information into a database.  

I recall sitting with an employer and talking her through the questionnaires and encouraging her to make a start. I offered her chocolate biscuits (always a good ice-breaker) and she grabbed my fountain pen and started to complete her first worker record. Reflecting on that now, it was a big ask of employers.

Although completion of the NMDS-SC was criteria for accessing TSI (now the Workforce Development Fund) there weren’t many other benefits to them of making the effort; there were no facilities for employers to use their data for workforce planning or to benchmark their services against others in the sector.

That’s why the online NMDS-SC system was launched 10 years ago. It took some time to convince employers that they should access it as many organisations were still using paper filing systems and there were some barriers to overcome to persuade employers to go online.

If you shop online now, think back to the first websites you accessed; retailers had sites but it wasn’t easy to access your previous orders, or to purchase something at the click of a button and you didn’t get those “people who bought this also bought…” recommendations (I’m not sure this is always an improvement in 2017!). It’s fair to say the NMDS-SC online was pretty basic too as we had to learn as we went, step-by-step and take employers with us on the journey.  We solicited feedback from employers who were using the system: “it’s complicated, I don’t know where to look for help, I don’t know how to use the reports” and over time as funding allowed, we started to make changes to the website.

In the past 10 years hundreds of thousands of worker records have passed through the system. That’s a very significant amount of data which has been in the NMDS-SC online. Some of those worker records held very basic information whereas others were comprehensive, particularly from those organisations who embraced all the benefits of having full and up to date worker records. Nowadays, the vast majority of records we have on the system are well populated.

We’ve moved from paper copies to a comprehensive NMDS-SC website with lots of resources for employers, a wide selection of dashboards for them to easily use to interrogate their data and to access Skills for Care resources, as well as a helpful narrative to explain what the data is telling them. By mid-2007 the NMDS-SC held information on almost 120,000 staff and about 10,000 establishments, and now the system holds information on around 730,000 workers  and 23,000 care-providing locations (across the statutory and independent sectors), and is a mandatory annual return for all local authorities in England.  

In 2007 we knew little about the sector. In 2017 we can, with total confidence, paint an accurate picture of the adult social care workforce, providing information to the Department of Health, local authorities and other stakeholders to inform planning and funding for adult social care in England and to highlight workforce issues such as the number of EU workers in England and the impact of the National Living Wage since its introduction. Our team of analysts are experts with comprehensive experience; working with universities, helping Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to forecast their workforce needs, and providing regular information, reports and briefings to the sector.

We’ve come a very long way in 10 years, largely thanks to those employers who’ve signed up since 2007 and input comprehensive workforce information into the NMDS-SC. I’m still using a fountain pen, but I order my ink online, at the click of a button.