The participation of adult service users, including older people, in developing social care

Practice example 18: Surrey Users’ Network (SUN)

Characteristics of service users involved

Service user controlled organisation for people withphysical and sensory impairment, learning disabilities, mental health problems, and older people who happen to have an impairment as well, living in Surrey.

How service user participation within the organisation is ensured

Surrey Users’ Network is a grant-funded organisation made up entirely of service users, and so the management board are all disabled people. The organisation’s purpose is to support its 600 members so that they are empowered to be involved in processes that will help to improve their lives and their services.

What policies on service user participation has the organisation formulated?

Surrey Users’ Network has a contract with the county to provide a member organisation that provides service users to get involved in the council’s procedures. At the moment, SUN has service users involved in induction training for new staff into health and social care.

How are service users supported?

A policy on the reimbursement of expenses is important. Other types of support would include: ensuring that at meetings there are personal assistants available; recognising that at meetings aids like hearing loops might be necessary; documents being in large print, or other accessible format that, people might need and that they are available before meetings so that there is time for people to prepare and understand the issues; perhaps providing them with a briefing written in simple language so that they can remember what they want to say. At the moment there is a problem in that equipment is available to enable paid employees to do their work but not for volunteers.

It is also important for chairs of meetings to have had some training to ensure a more inclusive environment at a meeting, to learn ways of involving people who may be reticent, or who may not be able to see them. Training in empowerment for service users is important to build confidence and learn different ways of making an impact or contribution.

How are the effects of participation monitored, audited, and evaluated?

Surrey Users’ Network relies on focus groups and questionnaires in relation to particular projects, to check whether there has actually been any service improvement as a consequence of the service users’ involvement.

What makes organisations succeed in participation?

There has to be a planned and coherent process of involvement. Surrey Users’ Network has existed for about eight years, but latterly various ad hoc projects have been poorly co-ordinated: a structured approach is important to avoid wasting people’s time.

Participant users do have to be competent. In addition to training in empowerment, users should develop their skills to avoid the dangers of ineffectiveness or tokenism.

Contact details

Carol Pearson Astolat, Coniers Way, New Inn Lane, Burpham, Guildford, Surrey, GU4 7HL 01483 456558