Service User and Carer Involvement in the Institute of Health and Society
Service user and carer involvement have become increasingly important in the health and social care landscape over recent years as the value of learning from the people who use services has become increasingly recognised and valued.
"It is important for all universities to recognise the value of service user and carer lived experience to provide their students with a rounded university education. Worcester is at the forefront in this process and has provided an opportunity for people like me to play a small part in its academic community. It is great to feel valued for my expertise and let's hope our contribution will continue to be recognised by the university community."
Mental Health User Consultant and Impact Member
The University of Worcester had been involving service users and carers in its social work and nursing training for some years before such practice became a formal requirement. Two years ago, the Institute of Health and Society formed its own interest group of service users and carers - 'IMPACT' - who have consolidated their presence across teaching and learning, recruitment and selection and research and consultancy across the Institute.
Peter Unwin is the academic lead on Impact whose members include carers of learning disabled relatives, mental health survivors, people with long-term physical disabilities, care leavers, survivors of domestic violence and people with dementia.
The increasing profile regarding the need for dignity and respect across all caring services brings urgency to the involvement of service users and carers in the forming and moulding of student values and attitudes from day one of their student experience. Recent studies have seen service user and care involvement as having great potential for improving health and social care services by:
- improving professional accountability
- providing better information for service users and carers
- extending lay expertise alongside professional decision making
- leading to innovation from the grassroots
Nationally, however, this potential has been talked about rather than delivered due to issues of tokenism, negative professional attitudes, unsupportive organisational systems and a lack of resources.
"Service users and carers now have on-going input into courses through student selection, teaching and validation events. It is encouraging that the expertise of service users and carers is being recognised and used, and that in partnership with students, academics and practitioners we are working towards the same goal: to achieve the highest possible standards in health and social care."
Carer and Impact Member
Impact is determined to deliver on the potential for service user and care involvement to genuinely enhance the student learning experience and help bring about new cultures of care. Peter Unwin notes how encouraging it is that new areas within the Institute of Health and Society are looking to more fully involve service users:
"Our new courses such as those in Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy have already benefitted from the involvement of people who are users of these services through specific service users being aligned with such courses at selection, validation, teaching delivery and review stages."
Peter Unwin has recently completed research with service users via a grant from the Higher Education Academy and the Institute of Health’s future plans for developing the involvement of service users in research and consultancy is an exciting development for the University. Dr. Joy Rooney, IMPACT member and mental health service user, is already convinced that Impact is having an impact:
"I feel IMPACT is making a real difference to the selection, development and practice of new health and care professionals of the future leaving the University Worcester. I feel empowered to assist in the work of the University of Worcester’s Institute of Health and Society and make a real difference."
We are confident that IMPACT will increasingly make a real difference to the development of new professional cultures of respect, empathy and insight across the fields of health and social care.