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Consumer Conversations: A Drug and Alcohol Project

Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District
Project Added:
19 July 2016
Last updated:
19 August 2016

Consumer Conversations: A Drug and Alcohol Project


This project developed a sustainable consumer engagement program that involved consumer representatives in all areas of service delivery, improvement and monitoring.

View a poster of this project from the Centre for Healthcare Redesign graduation, August 2015.

Fixit poster


To increase formal consumer engagement activities within the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District (NBMLHD) Drug and Alcohol Service by 50% within 12 months.


  • Provides clients with a voice, so their experiences are heard and understood by staff and management.
  • Delivers best practice service planning, development and delivery of drug and alcohol services.
  • Provides holistic drug and alcohol services that are relevant to the client’s needs and improves their health outcomes.
  • Increases staff satisfaction and motivation in the workplace.
  • Encourages staff to be compassionate and understanding to clients, so they feel connected to the client and service.
  • Provides consumer representatives with meaningful and interesting roles that keep them engaged.
  • Reduces the stigma experienced by drug and alcohol clients and places them at the centre of their healthcare team.
  • Fosters a culture of consumer engagement in the Drug and Alcohol Service.
  • Meets the current and future needs of the client, carer and community.


Historically, consumer engagement in the NBMLHD Drug and Alcohol Service was predominately limited to patient satisfaction surveys and brochure reviews. The lack of framework, training and ongoing recruitment of consumer representatives meant the two consumers who were engaged as representatives were not used to their full potential.

Consumer engagement has been identified as a priority for NBMLHD and the Drug and Alcohol Service, as outlined within the NBMLHD Business Plan (Drug and Alcohol 2015-2016) and NBMLHD Strategic Plan 2012-2017.  The National Safety and Quality Healthcare Service (NSQHS) Standards also include ‘Partnering with Consumers’ as one of the key elements for compliance.

For consumer engagement to be successful, it must be sustainable, consistent, robust and transferable. A staff survey conducted in October 2015 found only 16% of staff in the NBMLHD Drug and Alcohol Service had contact with a consumer representative during service development activities. A new quality accreditation position was created within the team, which provided an ideal opportunity to develop a formal consumer engagement program.


An audit was conducted prior to project implementation, comprising:

  • 19 patient interviews
  • 19 staff surveys (21% of Drug and Alcohol Service staff)
  • a root cause analysis workshop with staff and consumers
  • a recruitment drive for new consumer representatives
  • a baseline measurement of consumer engagement activities.

Solution 1a - framework

A robust framework was developed as a foundation for the consumer engagement program. It was designed to maintain consistent standards across NBMLHD and provide clear, tested processes for other departments who require consumer engagement to meet NSQHS Standards.  It included:

  • a role matrix that identified the various activities that consumer representatives can undertake. This provided a widespread coverage of representatives across the service, a clear understanding about what activities they can participate in and guidelines for staff on when they should engage a consumer participant
  • a clear and simple recruitment process that can be replicated easily by new staff and allows new consumer representatives to be sourced in a timely manner
  • a training plan to make sure consumer representatives have the opportunity to develop the necessary skills for their role.

Solution 1b - action plan

A yearly action plan was created to ensure:

  • sustainability, ongoing expansion and development of the consumer engagement program
  • the consumer engagement program has a focus on outcomes for Drug and Alcohol Service clients
  • responsibility for the program is attached to the Quality Coordinator role
  • governance under the Drug and Alcohol Patient Safety and Quality Committee
  • consumer representatives provide input into each year’s plan.

Solution 2  - consumer representatives

Two consumer representatives were appointed to the marketing committee and involved in the following activities:

  • development of a marketing strategy, based on feedback from patient interviews that showed the need for better information on services and treatments
  • development of marketing materials including videos, online resources, service information and drug and alcohol information
  • updating the marketing committee terms of reference
  • collecting feedback from a range of consumers on the resources developed
  • updating resources available to staff in the Drug and Alcohol Service.

Solution 3 - recruitment

Consumer representatives were appointed to recruitment panels, to:

  • ensure 80% of Drug and Alcohol Service interview panels have a consumer panel member by December 2016
  • ensure staff employed by the Drug and Alcohol Service are compassionate and understand the needs of clients
  • act as panel members on staff interviews, in addition to current panel requirements
  • observe and ask questions that demonstrate soft skills, such as how well applicants respond to clients.

Solution 4 - review

Two consumer representatives were asked to participate in a formal review of the Opioid Treatment Program (OTP), which was initiated following feedback from patients that highlighted room for improvement.  

Project status

Implementation - the initiative is ready for implementation or is currently being implemented, piloted or tested.

Key dates

May 2015 – August 2016

Implementation sites

  • NBMLHD Drug and Alcohol Service
  • South Western Sydney Local Health District has shown interest in implementing the program.


  • Consumer representatives in NBMLHD


Solution 1 - framework

  • The consumer engagement framework is currently in development, with training for Drug and Alcohol Service staff now complete.
  • Formal consumer engagement activities in the Drug and Alcohol Service increased by 322%, from nine in 2014-2015 to 38 in 2015-2016. This exceeded the target of 13 activities or a 50% increase.
  • Staff satisfaction with the consumer engagement program increased from 80% to 89%, exceeding the target of 88%.
  • Consumer representative surveys are currently underway, to measure satisfaction with the engagement process. The target is 80% satisfaction by July 2016.

Solution 2 - consumer representatives

  • Marketing materials are now reviewed by consumers prior to publication (for print resources) and after publication (for online resources).
  • Recruitment is underway for two consumer representatives to join the marketing committee.
  • One consumer representative now sits on a working party that develops marketing resources, while two others provide feedback on resources developed.
  • A review of the marketing committee terms of reference and group membership is underway.

Solution 3 - recruitment

  • The process of hosting consumer representatives on recruitment panels is currently underway with Human Resources and Clinical Governance Units.
  • A review of recruitment panels will take place in December 2016. The target is representation of consumers on 80% of all interview panels.
  • The development of consumer representative job descriptions and training is underway.

Solution 4 - review

  • Three consumer representatives provided input into the OTP review.
  • The target is 20% of clients providing feedback on issues and solutions outlined in the OTP review by October 2016.

Lessons learnt

  • It’s important to get sponsor approval and buy-in for solutions as early as possible.
  • Good communication with staff at each stage of the project is critical to its success.
  • It’s better to grow the program over time as more representatives are recruited, to give staff confidence in the program and ensure representatives are not overburdened.
  • It’s expected that as the program develops further, consumer representatives can lead service improvements and initiatives via a dedicated consumer committee.

Further reading


Susan Crosbie
Quality and Accreditation Coordinator
Drug and Alcohol Service
Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District
Phone: 02 4734 1652

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