Published: 15/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5986 Page 27

Mental. Mental. Mental. There. That is got rid of 3,000 idle page-flickers. It is a sequence that has the same effect on most readers that 'dental, dental, dental' would have on me.

A health authority was once barmy enough to put me in charge of a dental hospital along with - bizarrely - a foot hospital. I saw this as a significant career move. If ever foot and mouth crossed the species barrier, I would be perfectly placed.

Alas it remained with the beasts, and my management portfolio was compounded by incorporating mental health services. Now that is a mind-boggling combination. Dental and mental. Gum-toting serial drillers and gun-toting serial killers.

Perhaps it was meant to resonate in the public mind.

But dwelling for a moment on that cavity that is the regulation of professional practice, I wonder how many readers I could shed if I discuss a new publication, snappily entitled New Ways of Working for Dentists: enhancing effective, personcentred services through new ways of working in multidisciplinary and multi-agency contexts, final report 'but not the end of the story'.

That is what has just been launched by the DoH, but substitute dentists for psychiatrists.

This is an outstanding effort from the National Institute for Mental Health in England and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, principally edited by Steve Shrubb of the National Institute for Mental Health in England and Mike Shooter of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

While the focus is on the changing role of the specialist medical practitioner in mental healthcare, it inevitably considers all the aspects of effective service. This is considered in a multi-disciplinary team-based setting, with the service user and their carers being valuable team members in their own right, and key contributors to the report.

Some very significant statistics have been unearthed, too. The increase in the specialist workforce of healthcare professionals, working principally in mental health, in the seven years to 2004 was more than 25 per cent. Consultant psychiatrists over the same period grew by a hefty 46 per cent. More awesome yet: clinical psychologists grew by 63 per cent and psychotherapists by a staggering 128 per cent.

What do these stats tell us? Well I do not know any of these professionals who just sit on their thumbs all day.

The work piles in week after week, though we have developed a defensive propensity to ensure increases in processing tasks outstrip any increases in output and what I would dare to call 'productivity'.

What is most important about the findings is that they tackle the issue of super-specialists becoming essentially back-office functionaries.

Professionalism inevitably engenders specialisation. And as we get to know more and more, it seems, about less and less there is an implicit threat to multi-disciplinary working, which has served patients and professionals well for 30 years.

This publication represents a welcome attempt to keep the very specialist skills available within the broader team setting - to everyone's benefit.

We may well not see annual growth in numbers of mental health professionals hit 3 per cent ever again, but we will see demand grow.

The only way to cope is to improve the effectiveness of the team - which is what this excellent publication aims to do. .

Jeremy Taylor is chief executive of Nottinghamshire Healthcare trust. He writes in a personal capacity.