This poster briefly describes work by two projects sponsored by the Health Foundation to introduce peer support workers (with experience of using mental health services) into a mental health trust and Care Navigators (with experience of homelessness) into an acute trust. The projects focussed on learning how to implement these new roles which had been described in the literature, but little tested in practice.
To varying extents, both projects can evidence improvements in patient or service user experience. Their work suggests, for instance, that the mere realisation that a member of the service team has ‘been where you’re sitting’ can have a transformative effect, with patients and service users seemingly more able to feel comfortable around workers who have similar experiences to their own. Staff attitudes and behaviours have been influenced, as peer workers model both positive attitudes towards patients and service users, and demonstrate that recovery and positive outcomes can be a reality.
Areas to consider when introducing similar roles include:
Developing and providing appropriate training for people in peer support roles
Making appropriate adaptations to your usual employment processes, such as investing more time in working with applicants to the role, and sensitive handling of references
Providing support to peer workers as they are in roles which can be emotionally demanding
Guarding against potentially negative effects, such as using the peer support role as a tool to persuade a patient or service user to accept a particular treatment.
There is more information about the mental health peer support project on the Health Foundation's website.