The participation of service users, patients, families and carers has been one of the most significant developments in professional education for health and social work over the past decade. The active contribution of people who are ‘experts by experience’ in higher education has reflected parallel developments in the fields of professional practice and research, where patient and public involvement (PPI) and participatory research have respectively gained credence. The recognition that people who use services and/or have caring responsibilities have a unique, valid and indeed essential contribution to make represents a remarkable shift in attitudes, and has the potential to re-shape and transform services, teaching and research in health and social care.
Nationally, professional and regulatory bodies have adopted policies that ensure that user consultation and participation is central to development in policy, practice and education. Mental health initiatives were in the vanguard here, reflecting the strong presence of the ‘user/survivor’ voice in service provision. As long ago as 1999 the National Service Framework for Mental Health proposed that ‘service users…should be involved in planning, providing and evaluating education and training’ (DoH 1999 p.109). With the introduction of the degree in social work from 2003, the four UK Care Councils stipulated that ‘service users and carers must be involved in all aspects of planning, implementing and monitoring of the new degree, including the selection of students’; in some parts of the UK this is supported by a grant to each university offering the degree.
The Health Professions Council’s Standards of Education and Training guidance seeks evidence from training providers ‘of the contribution that stakeholders (placement educators, employers, practitioners, past and present students, service users, and strategic health authorities) make’ in the programme planning process. However, it has also been recognized that the process of involving ‘experts by experience’ in professional education is complex – to be effective it must be carefully planned and executed and supported financially (Tew et al, 2004). As a result an increasing number of Higher Education Institutions have opted to employ people whose remit is to recruit, train and support service users and carers to contribute to professional programmes. In turn, service user and carer involvement development worker posts need to be well constructed and supported. That is the focus of these guidelines, which we hope will be of use both to universities considering or planning such posts and to those with a worker already in post, but where the post is to be reviewed.
Project Director Mental Health in Higher Education (mhhe)