A New Prescription for Drugs Services
During summer 2010, User Voice undertook a user-led consultation with the recipients of drug and alcohol services in Doncaster. The impetus for the project came from the Doncaster NHS Drug Strategy Unit (DSU), who recognised that involving the people who used their services can play a vital role in effective delivery and evaluation.
The project designed and delivered by User Voice sought to involve service users in a way that altered the traditional dynamics of power in research activity; too often such research is undertaken by academics with little attention given to issues of power and involvement.
Our model, since further developed and refined in our nationwide Excluded Youth Project, consisted of the following:
- 257 questionnaires completed by service users in face-to-face interviews;
- 25 participants then took part in four focus groups;
- A final seminar was held in Doncaster in August 2010 where service users, providers and commissioners could exchange thoughts and ideas about service improvements.
Earning the trust and respect of participants is central to successful engagement. The User Voice approach invests time, energy and effort in creating and cultivating relationships before any meaningful work takes place.
This allows the space for a trusting relationship to develop; one that is based on respect and understanding. By understanding that the people leading the delivery have ‘walked in their shoes’, people are more likely to be motivated and inspired to give insight from some of their most personal experiences.
Significantly, the report noted that unsuccessful relationships between users and providers were often when service users felt that the service offered was being done ‘to’ rather than ‘with’ them. This was particularly the case in relation to Probation which was seen as a barrier to the treatment journey.
Many service users expressed deep concern about being prescribed methadone for lengthy periods of time with little or no exit plans. Too often getting into a methadone programme seemed to be a ‘good enough’ end point as providers “are commissioned to deliver treatment not recovery”.
Recommendations included service users becoming central to their own treatment plans so that their individual needs are considered and more integration and coordination with other institutions within the criminal justice system, especially Probation.