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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 learners, they would be more likely to work together effectively in clinical or work-based teams. A highly influential 2010 WHO report fully endorsed IPE to support collaborative healthcare practice and a Lancet paper (also published in 2010) emphasised that IPE could be used to help break down unhelpful professional silos and facilitate collaborative care amongst the highly mobile current and future health workforce (Frenk et al., 2010).

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 (e.g. Francis Report, 2013) and there are clear policy drivers from government to encourage collaborative practice and partnership working. 

The main drivers behind the initial development and implementation of interprofessional education were the improvement of health, social care and wider public services as part of the response to high-profile cases in which vulnerable people (often children and young people) ‘fell through the net’ (e.g. Laming Report, 2003). More recently, in the wake of other healthcare inquiries such as the Francis Report (2013), service reconfiguration (including more care in the community, shorter in-patient stays and changes in professional roles) and a call for all healthcare professionals to focus on patient safety, dignity and care, IPE is seen as an important means of enabling this.

Finch (2000) set out the important features that interprofessional collaborations should try to embrace. ‘The NHS wants learners 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 (e.g. advanced practitioners, nurse consultants, physicians’ assistants)
  • to provide flexibility in career routes: “moving across”.’


Economic drivers also support collaboration and partnership working. Faresjo suggests that ‘the working together of healthcare professionals to meet the increasingly complex patients’ and clients’ needs most effectively is more important today than ever before. This is especially so in rural and remote areas around the world, where available healthcare resources can be sparse … it is essential that health and social professionals work together in order to supply sufficient care within available resources’ (2006, p. 1).

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