Introducing Peer Support Workers into mental health

One of the shifts I think we’ll see in the provision of public services – particularly in social care and health – is the significant introduction of “Peer Support Workers”. I.e. people who have been through or are still in the social care / health systems formally and informally working with those currently going through the system.

There are lots of good reasons for this, including:

  • It generally leads to better outcomes for the people being supported
  • It generally leads to better outcomes for the people doing the supporting
  • It’s an approach that works well in partnership with professionals
  • It utilises the under-tapped capabilities of people who use services
  • Evidence suggests it can be a more cost effective way of delivering services.

As with much innovation, mental health services are leading the way. Thus, this research work by St George’s, University of London is very much worth keeping an eye on.

The Peer Worker Research Project is set up to explore how Peer Worker roles are being introduced into mental health services nationally, in both NHS Mental Health Trusts and in the voluntary sector. We aim to assess what is already known from the existing evidence about introducing Peer Worker roles to see to what extent it applies in a range of mental health services in England.

We also aim to develop guidance and online resources about what supports Peer Workers to carry out their role effectively. We will do 12 case studies across England of initiatives that involve Peer Workers.

You can follow their progress and the case studies on the dedicated Peer Support Worker website. There is also a very interesting event on 28 April about this work and practice developed so far, details of which are here.

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NSUN: User voice and mental health

For me, one of the privileges of my work is that I get to meet lots of interesting people and organisations who are doing some fantastic work.

I met one such organisation earlier this week: the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), based in Vauxhall, south east London. NSUN was created to provide survivors and users of mental health services a stronger voice in shaping mental health policy and services at national, regional and local level. It does this by bringing together and networking individuals and organisations across England to learn from each other, share good practice and undertake influencing work.

Amongst many good things that a recent evaluation of NSUN highlighted, it noted that:

  • Commissioners and policy makers believe that the voice of the service user is “undoubtedly stronger” as a result of NSUN
  • NSUN has created a framework for service user involvement that makes it easier for service users and commissioners to work together and to sustain this engagement

As a result, far more people have been engaged and involved in shaping services that wouldn’t have otherwise had chance to.

Part of the strength of NSUN – alongside being run and controlled by mental health system survivors and users – is its focus on what it wants to do and where it wants to be. I think the summary of their strategy for 2011-16 (which can be accessed here) is a very good example of a strategic plan that tells an excellent story whilst being specific about what it will do and how, as well as knowing what success looks like.

Similarly – and, in my experience, unusually – there is a robust risk management and exit strategy. Obviously, the hope is that this would never be used, but it’s a very clear document that explains what NSUN would do if it found itself in difficulty.

I suspect the reason for having such a good document is the strength of the administration within NSUN – an undervalued but crucial element to the success of any organisation. NSUN have said they’re happy for me to share it – please see below.

Capturing, understanding and aggregating the voice of service users (across all areas of life) is a notoriously difficult thing to do. Not everyone will agree with the final output, quite aside from different views on the system they’re trying to work with or change. In a difficult landscape, NSUN feels to be an excellent example of what’s possible.

For more information about NSUN, please visit their website.

(Please note: this is a personal post!)