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Successful partnership working

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Partnerships have been described as ‘the indefinable in pursuit of the unachievable’.

Joint working often gets a bad press despite a range of commitments to further partnership working in the white paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say (2005).

Despite all this, partnership working remains essential for all nurses. In the UK, the system of partnership working is based on the 1940s distinction between people who are sick (who have health needs met by the NHS free of charge) and those who are merely frail or have disabilities (who we see as having social care needs met by social services and who are often subject to means-testing). This creates legal, financial, organisational and cultural barriers that all present challenges for joint working.

But patients do not see their health in terms of divisions. All nurses encounter situations where patients will benefit from input from other agencies. Similarly, there are times when the perspective of another profession can offer help in understanding a problem more fully or finding an alternative solution. This creates many different relationships, whether that is referring to a partner agency that we know and respect, or working on a joint basis with a fellow professional.

For patients with complex needs, we might require more integrated approaches, such as a shared budget, a single management structure, a single point of entry or a fully integrated service.

In the future it is likely there will be more joint teams, more staff secondments to partner agencies and greater integration. Nurses able to work across agency boundaries will appear increasingly attractive to employers.

Here are some tips for successful partnership working:

  • If you do not understand or agree with something, say so - it is the only way to seek solutions and for others to explain or reflect on your observations;
  • It is easier to work with people you know and trust. Seek out opportunities for joint casework, attend other agencies’ team meetings or joint learning events;
  • Always try to see the other side. People normally do things for a reason so it is important to understand what motivates and drives them. Whatever you think and say about another profession, you can bet they think and say similar things about yours;
  • Seeing is believing - shadow a colleague from a partner agency and try to understand the pressures she or he faces, and the reasons behind her or his actions.

Training plays a vital role in improving your partnership-working skills. But much traditional training does not reflect the increasingly joined-up nature of frontline services. All too often medical schools, nursing departments and social work departments train their respective workers with little overlap or contact. Against this background, enterprising nurses who want to develop their partnership skills and move ahead often have to make their own opportunities.

This is beginning to improve. Courses such as the MSc/Graduate Diploma in Managing Partnerships at Birmingham’s Health Services Management Centre bring people together
from different organisations, professions and user-group backgrounds to learn with and from each other.

Part of this is looking at introductory frameworks that ask workers to think about the needs of their patients and the professional partnerships that might be needed.

Put bluntly, achieving what we want for our patients depends to a large extent on who we need to work with and how we need to work with them.

Working in isolation is no longer an option - if it ever was. Partnership working will be an important and marketable skill for nurses in the future. Whatever our previous experiences and our views of other professions, patients? needs demand no less.

Further information

To find out about the MSc/Graduate Diploma in Managing Partnerships in Health and Social Care, call Sarah Stewart on 0121 414 8390, email or visit the website

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