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Development of a mental health consumer participation unit

Hunter New England Local Health District

The Consumer Participation Unit (CPU) was created as a direct response to NHQHS Standard 2, Partnering with Consumers.4

The CPU is a database of vetted, interviewed and trained voluntary participants who may be consumers, carers, or community members who are keen to participate in key mental health service projects and activities. Some examples include short-term working parties, service improvement committees, interview panels and quality improvement activities.

Service targeted

Consumer Participation Unit, HNELHD

How was the project embedded within practice?

Consumer participation is core to all work.

Consumer and carers collaboratively participate with the mental health service in quality improvement projects, governance and service redesign processes.

The CPU directly oversees:

  • recruitment (community managed organisations, services, volunteer services) and retention of participants
  • identifying and communicating participation job descriptions and responsibilities
  • communicating the service’s responsibility around participation
  • the correct reimbursement for the time and expenses of the participants.

Participants are mentored through an assigned staff member. The senior consumer advisor provides supervision; ensuring that the person is comfortable in their role and has the capability to contribute in a meaningful way.

Independent consumers and carers represent multiple committees and working groups across the district alongside clinicians and managers. These consumers and carers are involved in strategic planning, operational planning and other key reform projects.

While CPU members are volunteers, they are reimbursed for travel time and given a small donation for out of pocket expenses. These costs are spread across the service as each unit is responsible for the participant’s time.

Participants are added to Stafflink under “Ancillary” staff for transparency.

What worked well?

  • Ensures that the consumer voice is represented at every stage of organisational design, delivery and planning. Uses the expertise and experience of people who have lived experience of mental illness to help design and deliver services that are consumer needs focused.
  • Meaningful partnerships were created with service users.
  • Positive feedback from service managers and staff - independent voices have been insightful, thought provoking, creative and considered. A number of services have highlighted that by having consumer participation has increased their confidence and bravery in tackling issues that have previously been difficult to resolve.
  • Participants have gained confidence in themselves and better knowledge into health services. This has led to some participants gaining paid employment as peer workers.