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Trust project receives top research award

A Clinical Psychologist from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has beaten stiff competition to pick up a regional research prize for a special project which explores the role of peer support workers and their integration within clinical teams.

Dr Jo Smith, who is based in Wymondham, was awarded the prize for the best poster and presentation at a Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs) East of England event in Cambridge. It came as a result of her work looking at the way peer support workers (PSWs) are prepared for their roles supporting service users and integrate into clinical teams.

PSWs are people with lived experience of mental ill health who work alongside clinical staff to offer emotional and practical support to help others find a way forward in their recovery. They offer understanding, acceptance and empathy based on shared experience and – most importantly – can be a role model and an image of hope and possibility that recovery is possible.

NSFT recruited its first PSWs in October 2014, and now employs 23 across the Trust, with a further six due to start work in January.

“Peer support workers have become increasingly important over the past 12 months, and play an important role in helping to deliver recovery-focused care while also inspiring and motivating our service users,” said Dr Smith. “I wanted to see what more we, as a Trust, could do to help them settle into their new roles by finding out about the challenges they face when they are placed in teams which are traditionally made up of people who are experts by training.

“I was also keen to look at the training the PSWs are given before they are appointed to their posts, as this is an area where there hasn’t been much research before.

“My goal was to find ways of making sure the PSWs can integrate into the organisation fully and that NSFT does what it can to help them overcome challenges so that they can not only do their best for other service users but also enhance recovery-orientated practice in teams.”

This year, there has been nine CLAHRC fellows in the east of England, with each conducting research to improve the outcome which patients have from their care.

Dr Smith’s project was funded by CLAHRC, and saw her interview nine PSWs as well as clinical staff during the course of the research. She is now conducting further analysis of her findings and hopes to present the project nationally once that work is complete.

“I hope that we will be able to use the findings of this research to make changes which will further improve the training PSWs receive while ensuring their integration into their team is as smooth as possible,” added Jo. “The aim is to make a difference and have a positive impact on how services are delivered.

“I was absolutely delighted when I was awarded the prize, and also surprised, since the standards were high, and the projects so interesting. I was very pleased, too, to see a mental health project valued in this way”.

Dr Smith gave the presentation with the help of NSFT peer support worker Brigitte Platt. Her research was carried out under the supervision of CLAHRC supervisors Professor Fiona Poland at UEA and Doctor Marcus Redley from the University of Cambridge.​