Misfit for a purpose? 2

May 23, 2003

Debra Humphris reports on why a team-based approach could yet prove to be a life-saver

Just as a Formula 1 pit-stop crew choreographs its every move, so too must a cardiac arrest or intermediate care team. Regardless of whether a task involves changing tyres or providing

diagnosis and care, teamwork is critical to performance. But teams do not just happen. Individuals can form a group but not function as a team - that ability has to be actively encouraged and developed.

Sir Ian Kennedy, who led the 2001 inquiry into the management of care of children receiving complex heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, recommended that students following a range of health and social-care programmes be given more opportunities to learn together as teams.

A survey of multidisciplinary teams led by Carol Borrill, executive director at Aston University’s Centre for Health Service Organisation Research, concluded in 2000 that good team working can make a critical contribution to the quality of patient care and innovation in the National Health Service. Another finding was that effective teams are good for members’ wellbeing and stress levels. They suggested that the NHS should design work around teams rather than hierarchies.

The Department of Health has encouraged universities to develop such opportunities. The New Generation Project at the universities of Southampton and Portsmouth is a leading example. The project, involving students from 11 different professions, commences in October 2003.

Four units, based on collaborative learning, interprofessional team working, enabling change in practice and interprofessional problem-solving, are being set up. Students will work in small groups on specially designed activities in university and clinical settings. They will focus on learning to work in a team, auditing practice, exploring innovation in services delivery and learning from critical incidents.

A strong characteristic of an effective team is mutual respect. But there needs to be room for constructive criticism. As students progress they will do peer assessment and give feedback to help improve performance and recognise good practice.

University and practice staff, who will be involved as team facilitators, will not be immune to all this. They will be working with students with whom they have had little previous contact. It will be a culture change, but one that everyone recognises is necessary.

Debra Humphris is director of the New Generation Project based at the University of Southampton. Details: www.mhbs.soton. ac.uk/newgeneration/

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