The paper addresses the problems of the sensitivity analysis and optimal design of multi-span sandwich panels with a soft core and flat thin steel facings. The response functional is formulated in a general form allowing wide practical applications. Sensitivity gradients of this functional with respect to dimensional, material and support parameters are derived using adjoint variable method. These operators account for the jump of the slope of a Timoshenko beam or a Reissner plate at the position of concentrated active load or reaction, thus extending the sensitivity operators known in literature. The jump of slope is the effect of shear deformation of the core. Special attention is focussed on sensitivity and optimisation allowing for variable support position and stiffness, because local phenomena observed in supporting area of sandwich plates often initiate failure mechanisms. Introducing optimally located elastic supports allows to reduce the unfavourable influence of temperature on the state of stress. Several examples illustrate the application of derived sensitivity operators and demonstrate their exactness.