Workforce sustainability, through innovation

What Now for Peer Support Workers?

Mar 16, 2021

two brown wooden chess pieces side by side on the chessboard

In 2010, two pieces of work were commissioned by Together www.together-uk.org

  1. Using Personal Experience to Support Others with Similar Difficulties: A Review of the Literature on Peer Support in Mental Health Services by Julie Repper and Tim Carter, University of Nottingham
  2. A Helping Hand: Consultations with Service Users about Peer Support by Alison Faulkner and Thurstine Basset, independent consultants working for Together

Another report was produced to build on the work already done

  1. Lived Experience Leading The Way: Peer Support in Mental Health by Thurstine Basset, Alison Faulkner, Julie Repper and Elina Stamou, Peer Support Development Manager, to Together

This was probably the beginning of the  NHS Peer Support Workers initiative.

The principle of Peer Support Work had, of course, been in existence long before that. Some might say that at least since the industrial revolution, people had been supporting others based on their own lived experience of similar problems, or different problems in similar circumstances. But this more formalised NHS approach, began life as part of the new understanding of, and emphasis on, the importance of Mental Health and its role in resilience, performance and general wellbeing.

By 2013 peer worker roles had been introduced into UK Mental Health service teams and began to develop as a significant factor in recovery in Mental Health departments.

Frontline staff in the National Health Service are always working with a number of continuous pressures these can be

  • At the individual level: accountability, time commitments, expectations and more
  • At team level staffing, resources, absenteeism, cover etc.
  • At organisational level structure, culture, diversity, equality and beyond.

As twenty-first century senior managers began to see the impact of these pressures on the morale, performance and health of their workforce, a new manifestation of peer support began to emerge, and the wellbeing of staff throughout NHS organisations became a priority.

When, on January 29th 2020, the UK’s first two patients tested positive for Coronavirus, and a plane evacuating Britons from Wuhan arrived at RAF Brize Norton with passengers going into quarantine at a specialist hospital on Merseyside, an unimaginable crisis threatened the NHS. Since then the need for PSWs has been recognised in many of Britain’s hospitals. Staff are already showing signs of burnout, depression and anxiety, and the numbers, and severity, of cases seem likely to increase significantly.

As new posts are created, and heads of wellbeing begin appointing new cohorts of Peer Support Workers, there has never been a greater need for facilitative, experiential training empowering PSWs to learn from, and support one another. The emphasis on creating a community and building on personal strengths will need to focus on mutual sharing of experiences, celebrating successes and valuing diversity and inclusion. Ongoing support and supervision is also vital. While a mindset embracing positivity, potential and possibility are easy to encourage and access at first, prolonged periods of supporting others can take its toll. Support, light touch supervision, and ongoing facilitative encouragement and inspiration will be important components of a wellbeing policy.

So, this is where we find ourselves. We have a growing number of highly motivated and dedicated Peer Support Workers offering amazing support to their peers and colleagues. Training, support and supervision vary according to the particular circumstances in which they are working. What is becoming clear is that there is very little certainty about the future, either within or outside the NHS. It seems highly likely that the demands on PSWs are about to increase significantly. We have no doubt that they will rise to the challenges ahead. We feel privileged to have been involved in the training, supervision and training of Peer Support Workers in the context of COVID 19 and are committed to walking alongside them on this unpredictable journey.

Bibliography
Using Personal Experience to Support Others with Similar Difficulties: A Review of the Literature on Peer Support in Mental Health Services by Julie Repper and Tim Carter, University of Nottingham
A Helping Hand: Consultations with Service Users about Peer Support by Alison Faulkner and Thurstine Basset, independent consultants working for Together
Lived Experience Leading The Way: Peer Support in Mental Health by Thurstine Basset, Alison Faulkner, Julie Repper and Elina Stamou, Peer Support Development Manager, to Together
Introducing peer worker roles into UK mental health service teams: a qualitative analysis of the organisational benefits and challenges: BMC Health Serv Res. 2013; 13: 188. Published online 2013 May 24. doi: 10.1186/1472-6963-13-188
COVID-19 Timeline: British Foreign Policy Group https://bfpg.co.uk