The definition of partnership working is ‘any situation in which people are working across organisational boundaries towards some positive end’ (Huxam & Vangen, 2005.) It is, to put it simply, a collaboration involving several different organisations, which the patient has one single point of access to.
In the context of mental health services, partnership working regularly takes place and sees different ‘teams’ coming together to provide a more holistic, patient-centred service for their clients. In terms of who these ‘teams’ can be, they can be a whole range of different people and organisations, from other mental health care professionals such as GP’s and pharmacists, other local authority services such as employers and teachers, to an individual’s family and friends, or their informal carers.
One of the major benefits of partnership working, is that it can provide individuals who have specific needs the specific help and support of which they require, by ensuring that any ‘gaps’ in knowledge are filled. For example, if an individual attending a mental health service has Orthorexia, an eating disorder that is largely unheard of, and the mental health centre they are attending has no experience in dealing with eating disorders, through partnership working, they could refer such an individual to a specialist eating disorders service, thus giving them access to the expertise which the mental health centre themselves would not be able to offer had they been working with the individual on a one-to-one basis. Furthermore, they could also partner up with charities, such as the princes trust, for example, to provide support to patients in their search for employment, something which would be a protective factor for their recovery.
It is important to note, however, that, whilst there are evidently many benefits to partnership working, such as the ability to provide patients with greater levels of support through the offering of more ‘specialised’ help (as discussed in the paragraph above), and to ensure that everyone involved in the patient’s care is ‘on the same page’ and thus is working towards the same objective, there can also be some drawbacks to partnership working. The biggest drawback is related to the issue of confidentiality, for, the very nature of partnership working means that lots of people are involved in an individual’s care, and therefore lots of people need to know about said individual’s personal situation. If the individual refuses to give consent for their information to be shared, this can pose an ethical dilemma for care providers, and can cause relationships to suffer as a result. If relationships do become ‘damaged’, the individual might feel reluctant to disclose any further information to their care provider in the future, as they fear that it will be passed on to other people. This could consequently lead to an individuals’ mental health worsening, as they become unwilling to engage in therapy sessions.
Another way in which partnership working could in fact have an adverse effect on individuals with mental health problems, is if poor communication arises. If, for example, a patient’s GP is trying to contact the patient’s mental health support worker regarding additional support being needed, but they are unable to get through to them, the patient would be left ‘in limbo’ as to what is happening with their care. This could consequently cause them to experience feelings of hopelessness, as they might feel like they will never properly recover if they cannot even access the help and support which they need.
It is therefore paramount that, if partnership working is to take place, (which it undoubtedly should, by the way, for there are so many proven benefits to it), then it must be done right, to ensure that its purpose of providing better outcomes for people with mental health problems is effectively, and efficiently, met.