The participation of adult service users, including older people, in developing social care
Practice example 17: Southern Health and Social Services Board
Characteristics of service users involved
Southern Health and Social Services Board is one of the four health and social services boards in Northern Ireland which are responsible for planning, and commissioning and purchasing health and social care services for the residents in their area. Most of the work undertaken to date has been with people with physical disabilities and sensory loss.
How service user participation within the organisation is ensured
Service users can be involved at different levels:
- at an individual level in the planning, delivery and monitoring of services provided at home, in hospital and in the community;
- as part of a family, group or community;
- on an issue-specific group (for example, brain injury services);
- as a member of a planning teams;
- in management, for example by applying to become a non-executive Director.
In practice, service users want different levels of involvement. It’s important to find different ways of working with different people, depending on the project itself and the service users involved.
What policies on service user participation has the organisation formulated?
The Board has formulated a policy on service user involvement called Together, we make a difference. The Board has also developed an expenses policy in which service users are paid a £10 attendance fee and transport costs are reimbursed. Replacement care costs are also met.
How are service users supported?
Flexibility in the way that the Board tries to engage people is important. As well as formal sit down meetings in the Board Room, some service users prefer to be telephoned to give their views. Some meetings have been held at 9.00 pm in a local pub. Others have been held on a Sunday afternoon in a different venue. One of the biggest barriers came from using medical terminology and jargon. Instead, summaries are made rather than sending out 40 page documents, which people are not going to read. Minutes or action points are put into Braille or large print.
How are the effects of participation monitored, audited, and evaluated?
Changes to services have been made because of participation. People with sight loss were asked how they found the service, what was good, and what was bad. As a result, instead of people having to travel to Belfast to attend a low vision clinic, a number of clinics have been set up locally. Across the Board as a whole, the user participation policy will be formally reviewed in 2008. Service user participation is also written into the Board’s 5-year plan.
What makes organisations succeed in participation?
Organisations have to want to engage in user participation and it has to be driven from the top. The Chief Executive, Chair, and the entire Board are totally committed to participation. It really helps if there is commitment from the top down. Service user participation is an integral part of the way the organisation works.