Carer Engagement and Involvement: The Value of Carers Contributing Lived Experience to Professional Development by Charlene Kenny & Richard Craven

Support in Mind, Scotland’s Tayside Carers Support Project, in collaboration with Tayside Carers have recently created, designed and produced an information/signposting leaflet with contribution from NHS Tayside, titled “Caring is a Journey. Can I Help You To Cope?”. 

This piece of work structured carers’ desires to assist others bySimS leading on and taking ownership of, an innovative and creative piece of work which we agreed would consist of two tangible objectives. The first objective would be to enable those new into a supporting role to benefit, learn and be guided by existing carers’ experiences, and the second to introduce and educate those new to their supporting role with regards to engagement with NHS services. The carers who worked incredibly hard to produce this publication volunteer their time to utlise their considerable combined personal experiences of supporting someone with mental illness to improve the quality of mental health services via Involvement.  

Groups meet regularly in Dundee, Perth and Arbroath, and the project assists those supporting someone with mental illness to become involved, supported and included in the decisions which affect the care and treatment of their loved ones and provide principles into practiceindividuals with a much stronger collective voice in strategic planning and developmentThe project has been shortlisted for the Mental Welfare Commission, Principles into Practice Award 2014/15 under Carer Involvement, with the awards ceremony due to take place in Glasgow on Friday 6th March 2015. 

Subsequent to the publication of this leaflet in October 2014, carers have further utilised the leaflet themes to create, develop and facilitate an interactive training session to third year undergraduate students on the BSc(Hons) Mental Health Nursing course, at University of Abertay. Carers highlighted to students the importance of their personal individuality and the impact of this on engagement, combined with illustration of their personal experiences around communication with NHS professionals. This included varied discussion of examples of good practice and unpicking with students examples of when this has perhaps been problematic; some of the existing acknowledged barriers around confidentiality and what would be helpful when considering applications to their future practice. Evaluations undertaken on the day suggest this approach was hugely successful and provided students with tangible and useful suggestions they can implement and embed in their professional development, moving forward. Both carers and students rated this session highly and of considerable benefit and value, with lots of positive student feedback.

“This has been invaluable to my future nursing role.”

“Awareness of role of carer creates mindfulness in relation to carer/nurse relationship.”

Carers also illustrated the benefit of carers facilitating and leading the session.

“I felt very heartened by students’ responses – well worth coming.”

“We were able to set up rapport with students and highlight role of carers which should be useful to them in their future practice.”

This exercise really reinforced for me, as Involvement and Support Manager, the significance and value in a shift away from carers providing historical ‘talks’ around their experience to students/professionals and moving towards more collaborative, inclusive and interactive discussions, which is a crucial component to learning and future professional development.

It was also an important opportunity for carers to demonstrate their abilities to communicate effectively and flexibly, whilst showcasing their diverse and varied skill sets; providing students with a more holistic and personalised view of carers as individuals in their own right. Plans are already underway to capitalise on the success of this session and expand learning to additional professional disciplines.

The monetary value of carers is well documented. Recent figures suggesting carers save the economy a staggering £119 billion per year are truly hard to conceive for their scale which represents £20 billion more than the total NHS spend in 2009-10. Unless you are cared for by one of the tens of thousands of unpaid and often unrecognised citizens toiling in the area between professional care and personal despair: Bridging gaps (or gulfs) in service provision, keeping the peace (whilst sometimes out of the picture), smoothing the path ahead and living your own life.

With this in mind, the prospect of extending oneself even furtherColour Abertay Uni Logo seems to be verging on the heroic.  But, in what has already proved to be a very valuable work, this is exactly what members of Support in Mind Scotland’s Tayside Carers Support Project group have done to support the teaching and development of undergraduate Mental Health Nurses at Abertay University.

In a climate of austerity and change – and where the drive towards self-managed, personalised, person centred care is inexorable – the Commissioners’ maxim ‘more for less’ is easily (mis)understood to refer to cost, not value: The Carers Involvement Group’s willingness to work with our students is an example of value in action that it would be hard to replicate in any other way. Beyond their expertise as Carer’s the group brings diverse skills and a level of commitment which has seen them develop, deliver and evaluate a 2 hour interactive session to third year students which we hope to repeat this year.

Abertay photo 27.11.14Mine has been a relatively straightforward, facilitating role. Almost like a matchmaker, introducing those ‘in the know’ to those who ‘need to know’ and sitting back to watch the chemistry as these new partners go to work.

I hope we can repay them by what we take into practice leading to improved experiences for carers.

Charlene Kenny is the Involvement and Support Manager for Support in Mind Scotland’s Tayside Carers Support Project. For updates on local support and opportunities around Carer Involvement, follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TaysideCarerSupport or visit our website at http://www.tcsproject.org.uk

Richard Craven is a Mental Health Nursing Lecturer at Abertay University (r.craven@abertay.ac.uk) @ManamaCraven on Twitter and you can follow Mental Health Nursing at Abertay on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AbertayMentalHealthRecovery

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