'Our European health colleagues listened intently as I told them how our working together principles operated'

It is always useful to have an outside view on the way you do things, especially when it comes from observers who have no real axe to grind.

It can strengthen your resolve, inform your decision-making and allow you to take stock. You can also take on board other ways of doing things.

Over recent months, East Lancashire primary care trust has had the opportunity to access various European-wide conventions and forums, to contribute and to observe, to learn and to listen. I think we are the richer for it.

Forgive me if this sounds like the beginning of a classic joke, but let me tell you about an Italian, a Frenchman, a German and a British chief executive (yours truly) who met to talk about health matters.

The Italian health expert told us how regionalisation was his country’s pre-occupation; the German related how the ‘big divide’ between prosperous cities and poor rural areas was exercising their minds; and the man from the ministry in Paris explained that rigid central control still prevailed in France.

Of course, they were interested in the big picture of the NHS, with its current emphasis on reform and raising standards, meeting the 18-week hospital target, increasing patient choice and addressing inequalities.

But they were equally intrigued when I told them how local partnership working was our key to success in providing community-based health services for places in my patch, likeBurnley,Accrington,Nelson, Colne, Clitheroe and Rossendale. Quite honestly, it blew their minds. Apparently, such localised partnership deals and ways of operating are not even on the radar in their countries.

They listened intently as I told them how our ‘working together’ principles operated. How we had partnerships through our accident prevention team, our expert patients organisation, plus our self-help work on diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. How we had intertwined ways of working with our county council colleagues, how we motored our very own polyclinics through partnership deals with our five local borough councils, and also how we have developed partnerships with the police, the fire brigade, the acute trust, and the ambulance service.

Our European health colleagues were captivated with how our PCT routinely maintains a close working relationship at chief executive level with Lancashire county council; how our directors and frontline staff have integrated the commissioning of services for mentally ill people, elderly people and, increasingly, children. On the provider side, we can point to the two bodies meshing together their services for adult social care, and for children and families.

We are by no means alone in exploring this way of localised partnership working to get added-value results. However, in East Lancashire we have built up a reputation for results and achievements through the breadth of our partnership working, through the level of trust and through the level of sophistication of its operation.

It was nice to showcase the British spirit of innovation and implementation to a wider audience. Nice to be involved in it too.