In Sedgefield, County Durham, single assessment and multi-agency
working ideas are more than just rhetoric. Adult social care,
health, and housing departments are being reorganised into five
neighbourhood level multidisciplinary teams, with district nurses,
social workers and housing support officers all working
Ann Workman, community partnership manager, has been leading the
pathfinder team since May last year and enthuses about the benefits
the reorganisation is bringing to both service users and staff.
“It’s a tremendous way to work,” she says. “The system is so much
more immediate and flexible. Staff feel they are more effective.
Before, district nurses would spend an inordinate amount of time
trying to deal with social care and housing issues. Now, staff
don’t have to chase each other.”
Consultation with users and carers has been an important part of
the new service. “They made clear that they didn’t care whether we
were health or social care but they wanted local services and a
single point of access. They were fed up with people asking them
the same questions.”
A single assessment process backed by sound IT and administration
support saves time for both staff and users. “Staff don’t have to
go back and ask all the same questions over again. A social worker
or nurse might go out on an emergency case and find the problem has
a housing angle, which they can pass directly to a housing support
officer. Staff are co-located so there’s much more scope for
brainstorming and getting things sorted out quickly.”
The decision to merge primary care teams was taken back in December
2002. Inevitably, there were anxieties about the change among
front-line staff. “Managers said they wanted to keep people
informed as much as possible. But it was a difficult process, with
lots of complicated negotiations between the three partner
As soon as Workman knew her team would be the pathfinder she
arranged a team-building event at a local hotel. “It was a Saturday
and everyone came. People were upfront about their concerns. Health
staff were worried about a takeover from social care and the other
But the change of management has also benefited nurses. “They said
they wanted a visible manager. Previously, they were directly
managed by the head of nursing.”
Workman acknowledges that managing staff from different disciplines
can be challenging. “You have to work very hard to achieve
everyone’s respect. It’s being around and listening to their
concerns and being prepared for difficult discussions.”
Coming from a background in social care, Workman finds it can be
hard to understand immediately the different professional
perspectives on a problem. “It’s been a steep learning curve and I
admit I haven’t always fully grasped the issues. I always say to
people that they need to spell out the implications, particularly
with regard to health and housing issues.”
As time passes the team’s understanding of other disciplines is
growing and staff are able to make earlier referrals. “We generate
work for each other as we become more aware of each other’s roles.
It means we can highlight problems early on.”
Workman believes that a key element in the effectiveness of her
team is the level of support provided by skilled administrators.
“We have three high-level people doing business support. It is
quite expensive, but it has succeeded expectations and freed up
district nurses and social workers to do front-line work.”
Fourteen months on the team has gelled, morale is high and Workman
is enjoying her new role. “I wanted the job because it was a
co-located team. I feel more effective because of the way we work
in partnership. You can see the benefits in outcomes for people.
I’m involved in all sorts of things across the borough, which makes
the job all the more rewarding.”
Name: Ann Workman.
Job: Community partnership manager, Sedgefield
Primary Care Trust.
Qualifications: Diploma in Social Work, MBA.
Last job: Commissioning services manager.
First job: Secretary.
- Listen to concerns and discuss difficult issues.
- Let staff to spell out problems from their professional
- Be prepared to work hard to achieve respect.
- Keep a low profile and expect the team to work things out
- Skimp on admin – after all new technology means people do their
own typing and filing anyway.
- Think that everyone can do each other’s jobs.