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Keywords:

  • multidisciplinary education;
  • service user involvement;
  • severe mental illness;
  • user participation

Abstract

This paper reports findings from a 5-year evaluation (1998–2003) of a postqualifying programme in community mental health in England which made a sustained attempt to develop partnerships with service users. Users were involved in the commissioning of the programme and its evaluation, as trainers and as course members. The evaluation employed mixed methods to assess: learners’ reactions to user-trainers and users as course members; changes in knowledge, attitudes and skills; and changes in individual and organisational practice. Data were collected from participant observation of training, 23 individual and 18 group interviews with students and their managers (n = 13), and student ratings of knowledge and skills at the beginning and end of the programme (n = 49). The quality of care provided by students was rated by service users (n = 120) with whom they worked, using a user-defined questionnaire. The quality of care, and mental health and quality of life outcomes were compared to those for two comparison groups (n = 44) in areas where no training had taken place. In general, the students reported positive learning outcomes associated with the partnership orientation of the programme, and learning directly from and with service users. A higher proportion of programme users reported good user-centred assessment and care planning, and showed greater improvement in life skills compared to the comparators. This case study provides evidence of the value of partnership working with service users in interprofessional postqualifying education in mental health. The success is attributed to the design of the programme and the responsiveness of the programme board, which included service users. It may provide a useful model for programmes elsewhere and for other user groups. The case study itself provides a possible model for the systematic evaluation of partnerships with users in education and training.