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Improving skills for living

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Anne Allsop, RMN.

Community Mental Health Nurse, South Staffordshire Healthcare NHS Trust, Stafford

Partnership working has been promoted as the means through which community nursing will achieve the objectives and goals set out for it in The NHS Plan (Department of Health, 2000).

Partnership working has been promoted as the means through which community nursing will achieve the objectives and goals set out for it in The NHS Plan (Department of Health, 2000).

This concept might seem to be little more than rhetoric, with little grounding in the practicalities of daily nursing life. However, partnership working is yielding tangible results, transforming the lives of patients cared for in the community.

When we put the theory into practice, we learnt the true value of partnership working and the great improvements that can be made to patients' quality of life when it works properly.

Lifeskills aims to help people who have experienced mental illness, physical illness, bereavement or some other life-changing event, to cope with everyday demands and realities.

The programme encourages patients' to take responsibility for their own emotional welfare and enables them to develop coping strategies to help them withstand the pressures of life (Box 1).

It owes its success to a high degree of inter-agency collaboration and we believe our experience offers valuable lessons for other nurses wishing to work this way.

Lifeskills is a multi-agency project involving the local community NHS trust, borough council, the primary care trusts and the local college of further education.

A range of professionals have been involved in the project development, including a local community psychiatric nurse, health visitors, trust managers, a GP, dietitian, a local councillor, our health improvement programme manager, an exercise co-ordinator, and the manager of a lifelong learning course at a local college.

Project development
From the outset we realised we had to develop a process that relied on community nurses' networking skills. We began to lay the groundwork by bringing together a multidisciplinary group which initially included a borough council representative who was also a lay member of a PCG board, as well as a local GP, dietitian and an exercise co-ordinator.

We briefed them on our ideas and the GP gave a clear perspective of the problems she had experienced with people who had difficulties in maintaining their 'life skills' (Box 2).

We also organised a meeting with a number of organisations from the voluntary sector to ask them about networking for our clients and which services were available locally. They were all highly supportive of the project and gave us the names of individuals and organisations that might prove useful.

The challenges
We have devised a list of priority guidelines for other community nurses who are considering embarking on a similar partnership-based initiative:

- Set up a meeting as soon as possible with the groups, organisations, individuals and potential partners whose input will be crucial to the project's success

- Include the relevant voluntary organisations with an interest in the issue or client group you are targeting

- Ensure that your administration systems are accessible and clearly understood by everyone involved

- Find out about any award schemes that could be potential sources of funding

- Seek out like-minded people

- Keep focused, and share the workload equally

- Don't forget that a partnership culture can and should include the patients themselves

- Keep believing that your idea is valuable and that it will happen.

Those involved have learnt the true value of multi-agency partnerships through being part of this project. The benefits that accrue in terms of professional satisfaction are enormous. However, the most tangible and enduring advantages can be seen in the patients who are benefiting from this method of working.

The process was challenging and, at times, discouraging. We tackled a range of problems: for example, it took time for different organisation to overcome their communication difficulties; there were also conflicting work demands and the problems inherent in covering ground for which there was no recognisable blueprint.

Partnership working depends not only on understanding who needs to be contacted in any given organisation, but also on appreciating the aims of that organisation, where the power is and, above all, how to access help.

Department of Health. (2000) The NHS Plan. London: The Stationery Office.

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