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Keywords:

  • action research;
  • mental health services;
  • qualitative research;
  • quality improvement;
  • user involvement

Abstract

Objectives  To explore the involvement of mental health service users in the redesign of in-patient mental health services in six Trusts participating in a multi-regional NHS modernization programme.

Design  Semi-structured interviews and observation of team meetings undertaken as part of an action research study.

Participants and setting  Users, clinical, medical and managerial staff from six mental health trusts which participated in the Northern & Yorkshire and Trent regions’ Mental Health Collaborative (MHC).

Results and conclusions  Whilst there were some problems, user involvement was undoubtedly a strength of the MHC in comparison to other modernization programmes within the NHS we have studied. However, the particular challenges posed by the specific context of acute mental health services should not be overlooked. The initial approach taken in each of the sites was to simply invite a user or user representative to join the local project team. In the course of events, various changes were made to this initial mechanism for involving users in the ongoing work of the teams. These changes – and setbacks in some sites – make drawing firm conclusions as to the effectiveness of the various strategies employed problematic. However, our qualitative data suggest a number of broad lessons that will assist both those leading and participating in other redesign initiatives to maximize the benefits to be gained from service user involvement.