On 23rd April some of the CG members went to a presentation on the first two years of the Mental Health Act Commission Service User Involvement Strategy - 'From Strength to Strength'.
The presentation included talks from both MHAC representatives and Service User participating in the project. The purpose of this initiative was to really involve service users. The work and visits to psychiatric wards that started in 1996 are having a great impact on the policies and work carried out by the MHAC today.
The Service User Reference Panel have, apart from influencing policies and decisions also assisted with training for the Mental Health Act Commissioners, and accompanied them to visits to hospitals and wards. One of the main critiques put forward toward is that the Commissioners have not been looking at these issues from the patients' point of view.
The MHAC are committed to accept the challenges and risks that come with undertaking changes and improvements within the mental health care sector. It's not only about human rights, but about people's dignity and their needs.
One of the Service User Reference Panel participants (SURPs) spoke about how Service User involvement is about tackling disempowerment, and creating a healing environment where people can choose to recover. The SURP group at the moment consists of a diverse group of 29 people - but it was stressed that an even wider range of service users are needed to improve the quality of care available to the greatest extent, to improve standards and outcomes.
The SURPs spoke about some of their personal experiences of being sectioned or of being admitted to psychiatric wards voluntarily. While you hear about isolated cases, it is disturbing how widespread abuse and neglect is in these settings.
This work by the MHAC is unique, service users are no longer an after thought in policy making, but rather at the forefront when decisions are discussed. The combination of the legal and academic expertise brought to the table by the commissioners and the personal experiences brought by the service users means that the necessary changes, while challenging, can be carried out. Service users finally have ownership of the service user involvement processes and practices.
Next year, the MHAC will be merged with the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Health Care Commission to form the new Care Quality Commission. This was discussed, and many different viewpoints were put forward. One concern is that care will be less emphasised in such a large organisation, but on the other hand there will be more resources available - and the new commission will be able to reach more people and have more power to do things and to actively promote change. Views that this is a positive merge due to the close relationship between physical and mental health were also expressed - an example involved the use of CBT for physical ailments such as Tinnitus and chronic pain. The merge will also reduce the costs involved in the care provided.
If you would like to become involved, offer your views or learn more about this work, visit http://www.mhac.org.uk/?q=node/14