Frontline staff working together to achieve better joined-up care


Key actions

There is now an overwhelming body of evidence to show that engaged staff really do deliver better health care. The NHS providers with high levels of staff engagement (as measured in the annual NHS Staff Survey) tend to have lower levels of patient mortality, make better use of resources and deliver stronger financial performance.

The King’s Fund, Leadership and engagement for improvement in the NHS (2012)

Engaged staff are more likely to have the emotional resources to show empathy and compassion, despite the pressures they work under. So it is no surprise that trusts with more engaged staff tend to have higher patient satisfaction, with more patients reporting that they were treated with dignity and respect.

Improving NHS care by engaging staff and devolving decision-making – Report of the Review of Staff Engagement and Empowerment in the NHS (2014)

The value of people from different disciplines and organisations working together across traditional boundaries cannot be over stated. This helps instil person-centred approaches, embracing co-production and a ‘one team’ ethos which focuses on best pathways, with the right blend of care and support services to achieve their outcomes and enjoy best possible quality of life.

Martin Farran, Corporate Director Health, Housing and Adult Social Care, City of York Council

Frontline staff: the key point of contact

Frontline staff are crucial to successfully delivering good joined-up care. They are the key point of contact between individuals, and carers and families, services and systems, so their perspective, experience and knowledge is indispensable.

Frontline staff need to work together with colleagues from other services, professional groups and organisations. This will involve a shift away from working in separate ‘silos’ and creating effective interprofessional relationships based on collaboration and teamwork.

Joint working may involve a number of changes, including adapting to new team members and styles of working, understanding new terminology and processes, and moving to a new workplace. It can be a difficult and emotional time for staff, who may be anxious about the impact the change will have on them. Strong engagement with staff is important, not just in terms of workforce motivation, but also in terms of outcomes for people using services.

This section explores the range of levers that can be used to support a move to joint working for frontline staff. It takes the perspective of a frontline worker, and people working and interacting with frontline workers. It provides practical advice about how to approach joint working as well as examples of what has worked and why.

Change fatigue

We know that this is a time of significant reform in the sector and that staff may be suffering from ‘change fatigue’. Many staff in health and social care have experienced serial reorganisations throughout their careers. They may not have been involved in shaping the proposals, or they may have limited understanding of the rationale for the changes or the potential benefits. They may even disagree with the changes. Professionals with heavy workloads might see major change as an unhelpful distraction.

An environment in which workers feel safe and confident to raise questions, express concerns, talk about their experiences and make suggestions for service improvement based on their experience and relationships with people they support will create trust and help them and colleagues to feel supported.

Skills for Care 2014

When budgets are tight and jobs are at risk, adapting existing working practices to enable joint working may feel like a step too far.

It is important to understand how staff feel about changes to their working arrangements. Some may be excited by the prospect of joint working, whereas others may be apprehensive or worried about the proposed change, and there may be a mix of reactions within the team.

Examples of some common concerns include:

Understanding and appreciating these concerns is the starting point for a strategy for addressing them as part of the implementation of joined-up working.

Speech bubble 1: I would be really happy to work differently if only someone would think about what I can stop doing within my current workload.  Speech bubble 2: If only they would stop and listen to me and the people I work with. I could tell them how to do things better - but no one bothers to listen to me. Speech bubble 3: This has been done before and it didn't work then. Speech bubble 4: OK, I will play my part but it will change next year, so it doesn't really matter.

How can this learning be applied?

Frontline staff can only change their behaviour if they are empowered to do so. It is vital that frontline staff have defined freedoms to take initiative and test out ways to work across organisational boundaries. This needs to be clearly and consistently communicated by all managers and built into the responsibilities outlines in job descriptions.

Frontline staff need to recognise that when they do this, they assume a leadership role. Such leadership from below is grounded in everyday behaviours and must become a part of the culture in every organisation.

A team needs a champion who can constantly remind us what we are doing and why and can tell us when we are making progress and how we can do even better.

GP representative, Oxfordshire

Tools and resources

Create a shared agenda

Having started to explore the issues and anxieties surrounding joint working, the next stage is to develop a common understanding about the purpose and objectives of joined-up working. A shared ambition around making things better for local people, developed in open partnership, such as at a team awayday, gives staff from across different organisations the opportunity to come together and start developing relationships, while influencing the design and priorities of the future service.

Use guidance from specialist bodies

Another approach is to refer back to the guidance from the main professional bodies in health and social care who hold a shared view that working across organisational boundaries is crucial to providing effective care and support. This is helpful because clinical and professional staff are influenced by, and work to adhere to the values of their professional group.

All professionals have a duty to work collaboratively with patients, families, carers and other teams to deliver person-centred care that meets physical, psychological and social needs. Professionals should work across traditional organisational boundaries in order to coordinate care and meet people’s needs.

Joint statement from the Royal College of Physicians (London) and the Royal College of General Practitioners supported by the Academy and Medical Royal Colleges

The key roles and contributions that social workers make to an integrated health and care system are: to improve outcomes for people; protect people appropriately; and maximise the effectiveness of expenditure across health and care overall by undertaking a rights, strengths, and co-production approach to creative and innovative ways of improving people’s lives.

Social Work: Essential to Integration Advice note by Department of Health, Adult Principal Social Workers Network & Association of Directors of Social Services

Engage staff in joint working

In the first instance, the intended changes should be communicated in person, with a clear explanation of their rationale and what the changes are intended to achieve, along with and a clear plan for how staff can codesign the new joint working structure and processes. To overcome the barriers to joint working it is important to harness the energy, ideas and expertise of a range of people across the system, including frontline staff, who should be engaged with the change process from the outset. After this there are a variety of different engagement approaches that can be taken, including:

The biggest changes I have been a part of have only been delivered by working as a team across boundaries. Moving outcomes for stroke care from bottom quartile performance to top decile in 18 months [in Oxfordshire] was only achieved by GPs working with specialists and both working with nurses, social workers and senior managers. The whole team accepted that what had been happening was not good enough for patients and was frustrating for all parties. There was a real “feel-good factor” when we saw outcomes improve and no new money was required! It felt good when what we had done was shared in big meetings across the region.

My patients just do not understand why we are not working as a team on their behalf. Why don’t I know the community nurse, the social worker and the specialist? Why can’t I just pick up a phone to any of them and make something happen today and not in a month’s time?

Dr Stephen Richards, GP, former Chief Executive of Oxfordshire CCG

Listening to each other: Including everyone in the conversation

Good workforce development means learning from everyone's experience and valuing what all stakeholders have to say.

Chart: Listening to each other: Including everyone in the conversation. Good workforce development means learning from everyone's experience and valuing what all stakeholders have to say. What has to change, what works well? What do we do well? Understanding our new partners. Knowing what has to change and why. Other examples of good practice. Starting with what has already worked, how can the future look? What do we all bring? How will these benefit people with care and support needs? How can the ideas and experiences be shaped into possibilities? What are the constraints? What are the resources/strengths? Agreeing on the shape of an integrated service that meets the agreed outcomes. What is the flexibility? How will the systems reflect changing work patterns? What has to be achieved? Creating opportunities for shared learning & development & team building.  Designing the integrated service. What are the agreed outcomes? How are they monitored? What is the new skill set? What does each team member bring? Delivering integrated care and support. How can I support my colleagues? What is my role?  Reviewing and revision. How do people receiving care and support experience the service? Do my skills enable me to work in an integrated way?

To view a larger version of chart, download a copy of the full report.

As allied health professionals [AHPs] we need to work together towards services that we aspire to provide rather than being constrained by organisational boundaries. We all have common goals in improving care and this needs to work in both acute and community [settings] without being limited by the structure that services are provided in.

Dr Stephen Richards, GP, former Chief Executive of Oxfordshire CCG

Source: Direct quote (Anon) from Allied health professionals into action, NHS England (2017). AHPs into Action commits allied health professionals to supporting integration, emphasising their role in care coordination, rehabilitation and reablement.

Failure occurs when staff aren’t involved from the beginning in designing how integrated care will be implemented. Imposed change with ‘consultation’ doesn’t enable the necessary relationships to start developing between the different professional groups. The narrative has to resonate with people’s everyday work. If it consists of only data and stats and finance it won’t. Change also doesn’t work if people believe it is just this year’s fashion and not here to stay. Integrated care is a necessity for the majority of people we now have to care for, and for the sustainability of the health and care system. That is why every main political party backs the concept and why it will happen irrespective of government.

Sir John Oldham, former Chair, Independent Commission for Whole Person Care


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Co-designing change

Workforce development

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Checklist adapted from: The principles of workforce integration, Skills for Care, Think Local Act Personal, Skills for Health, the Local Government Association, NHS Employers and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (2014)

How to... work together to achieve better joined-up care
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