Findings have shown that whilst the current political climate represents an opportunity for collaborations to develop, there are still some issues yet to be resolved before collaborations can be systematically embedded into practice.
The squeezing of public finances and the growing pressures on GPs – particularly in socio-economic deprived communities – mean the need for collaboration between GPs and VCS organisations is greater than ever.
Dr Kris Southby a Research Officer from Leeds Beckett’s School of Health and Community Studies, who led the research, said: “The aim of this research was to identify the factors affecting GP-VCS collaboration.
“We looked at existing collaborations between GPs and VCS organisations and the factors that facilitate or hinder cross-sector collaborations. Collaborations are championed as ways of delivering more with less and are promoted as a necessary and effective strategy for addressing many of society’s most difficult challenges.
“Linking the resources of GPs with those found in the community is advocated by policy makers, clinicians and researchers as a more effective means of addressing patients’ psycho-social health needs.”
Factors shown to help collaborations work are:
- Shared aims and objectives
- Clear and regular communication
- Strong leadership
- Mutual respect and understanding
- Physical proximity
- Clear systems.
Factors that hinder collaborations are:
- A clash of working cultures
- Different views about the causes and solutions to health problems
- Lack of resources such as time and capacity
- Poor continuity.
As part of the research, staff from GPs and VCS organisations were interviewed about their thoughts on collaborations.
A member of a VCS organisation told of how GP surgeries react differently to the idea of a collaboration.
“You have surgeries that really buy into it…Then you have a middle slant that sort of do get it, but they need us when they want to so they refer to us on an ad hoc basis…Then there’s a cluster of surgeries that just don’t engage.”
Another member said all involved welcomed the idea of joint working.
“There’s something about the fact that we’re doing it as a group and a team...and everybody’s equal and imputing different points.”
Staff from a GP surgery talked about how difficult it can be to find the time to work together.
“It’s massively challenging for us I think…and I guess for them as well because it’s so phenomenally busy so that even to stop and take a breath and look what’s beyond what we’re doing is I think quite challenging.”
Another member of GP staff explained the limitations in the timeframe they work.
“I struggle because I don’t know what’s out there and finding out in the context of a ten-minute appointment with a patient in front of you…you’re dead in the water. You haven’t got time to be thinking well where do I ring to find out anyway.”
Dr Southby added: “During our research, GPs saw themselves as the first port of contact for patients and so their role within the GP-VCS collaboration was to signpost patients to appropriate community support. The role of the VCS was to receive the prescribed patient and provide the holistic and social support that GPs were unable to provide. They also felt that Public Health and local health commissioners had a role to play in breaking down barriers and facilitating relationships.
“Financial pressures, growing inequalities and demographic change mean that more systematic action needs to be taken. The initial pathways to, and development pathways within, GP-VCS collaborations need to be more clearly understood.”