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Background and policy context

As early as 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted that if health professionals learned together, and learned to collaborate as students, they would be more likely to work together effectively in clinical or work-based teams. The international trend still continues, and a WHO paper fully endorsing IPE to support collaborative clinical practice is due to be published soon.

There is overwhelming evidence that a failure of health and social care professionals to work together and communicate with each other can have tragic consequences for individuals (Quinney, 2006, p. 13; Laming Report, 2003). Despite the lack of robust ‘evidence’ that IPE contributes to more effective collaborative practice and improved patient and client outcomes, there are clear policy drives from government to encourage collaborative practice and partnership working.  

Finch (2000) set out the important features that interprofessional collaborations should try to embrace. ‘The NHS wants students to be prepared for interprofessional working in any or all of the following senses:

  • to “know about” the roles of other professional groups
  • to be able to “work with” other professionals, in the context of a team where each member has a clearly defined role
  • to be able to “substitute for” roles traditionally played by other professionals, when circumstances suggest that this would be more effective
  • to provide flexibility in career routes: “moving across”.’

Respondents replying to a General Medical Council (GMC) consultation on the strategic options for medical undergraduate education felt that ‘interprofessionalism was an important area in medical education, but it was more likely to be embedded into medical practice through experience. (However) there is concern that poorly designed interprofessional learning could harm collaborative interactions and polarise attitudes’ (GMC, 2006).

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