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Exploring the role of Peer Workers

17 October 2011

The NIHR SDO programme has funded a project, which will assess and evaluate the role of Peer Workers in mental health service delivery.

Mental Health NHS Trusts and voluntary mental health organisations are increasingly employing people who have used mental health services themselves to work in or alongside existing mental health teams.  The Peer Worker role has developed partly due to research evidence that they can support others in mental health recovery and also as the NHS needs to find cheaper ways of providing services as budgets are tightened. However the introduction of new roles into existing teams does not always go smoothly and if not supported carefully there is a risk that the new role will not offer the meaningful benefits that were intended.

The research team, led by Dr Steve Gillard of the Section of Mental Health at St George’s, University of London, will explore the introduction of the role of Peer Worker through 12 case studies in different parts of England.

Several of the cases will be in or supported by Mental Health Trusts. They will see Peer Workers working alongside, or in some cases replacing mental health professionals on existing clinical teams, adopting a range of roles such as developing and supporting recovery plans with service users, or taking up employment with organisations working in partnership with Mental Health Trusts. In the voluntary sector projects will include those that are service user-led (for example, providing crisis support, peer support and training), independent of NHS Trust services, as well as those provided for specific Black and Minority Ethnic communities. The project will include interviews with Peer Workers, mental health professionals, service users and managers.

Commenting on the project, Dr Gillard said: ‘While Peer Workers potentially provide many benefits, the role can be poorly defined and Peer Workers themselves are sometimes unsure of exactly what their role should be. By building on existing evidence we will develop guidelines and training tools for employing Peer Workers and make them widely available to Mental Health Trusts and voluntary sector organisations.’

The project is due to publish in October 2013 and further information can be found on the project page.

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The NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme is managed by the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC). NETSCC is part of the University of Southampton funded by the NIHR, with specific contributions from the CSO in Scotland and NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

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