SOUTH Devon healthcare staff have been praised by a national clinical leader for being "at the forefront" of a new drive to improve patient care.
Sir John Oldham, National Clinical lead for Quality and Productivity at the Department of Health, voiced his support at a Newton Abbot Hospital meeting, where he saw the way different health and social care staff work together to ensure patients get the best possible care.
Among those at the meeting were general managers from health and social care, nurse leads and a representative from South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group.
The CCG, led by family doctors, takes over responsibility for planning and buying health services for local people from 1 April 2013.
Sir John, one of the world's leading experts in large system change, said the CCG's philosophy of ensuring a joined-up approach with other organisations helped to remove the gaps patients might otherwise encounter when receiving care.
He told the staff: "You are at the forefront in terms of integration, and the benefits are being enjoyed by the public, who should be very proud of the way that social care is working in their interests.
"The highest level of care can only be achieved if we work together. Relationships trump structure, and it's so useful for me to see the great work being undertaken on the frontline here. Visits like this give me the information I need to feed back to ministers."
Sir John said his primary healthcare focus concerned managing patients with long-term conditions and transforming the system for urgent care.
Dr Sonja Manton, chief operating officer at Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust, said: "Sir John's visit gave us a real opportunity to benefit from his experience and knowledge, enabling us to have a different perspective and think a little differently about what we do."
Sir John was particularly interested in South Devon and Torbay CCG's virtual ward scheme, which identifies people at risk of being admitted to hospital and then provides them, where appropriate, with the same level of care they would normally get at hospital, but in the comfort of their own home.
He felt that a strength of the award winning scheme lay in the wide mix of teams involved with the virtual ward, including GPs, community matrons, nurses, occupational therapists and community care workers.
Carolyn Elliott, assistant director of health and social care, said: "Sir John was very enthusiastic about what we're doing, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on the rest of us.
"Visits like this are so positive because they enable us to share our experience and understanding with someone who has a unique insight into care."