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The Silent Crisis: Navigating Staffing Challenges in the Third Sector and Health & Social Care

In today's rapidly evolving world, the third sector and health and social care industries face a silent yet growing challenge that threatens their very foundation: the recruitment and retention of staff. Organisations like Autism and Neurodiversity North Scotland (A-ND) stand at the forefront of this battle, tirelessly working to secure funding for critical services that countless autistic and neurodiverse children, adults, and their families depend on. The importance of these services cannot be overstated, as, without them, the impact on many would be unimaginable.


Over these last few weeks, while we have been fortunate to recruit into our A-ND team for new services in Highland, we have sadly learned of three of our Aberdeen team, one operational and two business support, moving on for varying reasons and circumstances. 


Only this morning, I was starkly reminded of the impact of this continuous roundabout, meeting with one of the parents of an adult we have supported for many years, who is quite literally at their wits end as we cannot provide the full number of hours and sessions of support requested every week due to continuing staff shortages.  This impacts directly on their loved, as well as on their parents’ mental health and wellbeing.  This situation is not unique and sadly continues to be the reality for so many individuals and families.  While we continuously work tirelessly to resolve, we have our hands tied. 


The road to maintaining such essential services is fraught with obstacles, notably the significant lack of support from both local and national governments and many funders refusing to fund overheads and core costs. With continuous budget cuts and the move towards spot purchase commissioned services, organisations like us are left in a precarious position. We, and so many other charities, struggle to provide our staff with the security and benefits — such as permanent contracts, decent pension contributions, sick leave entitlement and employee assistance — that are often taken for granted in the public and private sectors. This glaring disparity not only hampers our huge efforts to retain talented individuals but also poses a substantial barrier to attracting new talent to the sector.


The consequences of this ongoing staffing crisis are profound. Charities like A-ND operate as lifelines for many, fulfilling crucial needs that local authorities are increasingly reliant upon to meet their statutory duties. Yet, this sector finds itself in a state of crisis, grappling not only with staffing and retention challenges but also with the threat of numerous charities shutting down due to insufficient funding and support. The fallout from such closures is devastating for the countless individuals who depend on these services.


Despite these challenges, the dedication of those within the sector remains unwavering and I cannot thank our own team enough. Our teams often work beyond their contracted hours, driven by a commitment to ensure that children, adults, and families continue to receive the support they need, even in the face of resource shortages and understaffing. This scenario, where something is always better than nothing, underscores both the sector's resilience and the dire need for systemic change.


In the short term, local corporate support has emerged as a critical lifeline for many charities, providing much-needed relief and enabling organisations like ours to continue their invaluable work. However, for a sustainable future, a radical overhaul of how charities are funded and commissioned is essential. The sector's ability to compete for talent, provide secure employment, and, ultimately, offer indispensable services to those in need hinges on addressing these foundational issues.


As we move forward, it is crucial for all stakeholders, including governments, corporations, and the broader community, to recognise and actively act on the urgent need for reform. Only through concerted efforts and systemic change can we ensure the stability and longevity of these vital services, preserving the lifeline that so many rely upon. The time for action is now, lest we risk the irreversible loss of skilled and passionate individuals from a sector that forms the backbone of our society's care and support systems.

By Billy Alexander, CEO, A-ND

7th March 2024

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