Trust us, we can keep a ‘secret’

Being a service user myself, I am interested in service provision.
So for the past eight years I have worked within a large mental
health trust in south west London. For the most part this has taken
the form of my helping people with mental health problems to access

But my plans to become a service provider provoked resistance from
my previous mental health team. They were concerned about my
robustness, and about the ethics of service users having access to
sensitive information about themselves and others.

However, it seems that the expertise of people who have “been
there” is finally being recognised. People who years ago would have
felt they had to keep quiet are happier to “out” themselves as
ex-service users. And some professional courses are even involving
service users to help educate future practitioners.

But despite the progress, not everyone is happy with the idea of
letting “them” (the service users) become “us” (the mental health
workforce). The same issues come up time after time. One that
particularly grates is: “will people be mindful of

Having had notes written about personal and sensitive areas of your
life makes you more aware of the importance of maintaining other
people’s dignity and respecting their privacy.

It is ridiculous that some people worry about employees who have
been service users coming across the notes of someone they know.
Many health and social care staff come across details about a
neighbour or a friend of a friend in the course of their duties. So
why is it any more dangerous for a service user to have that
information than any other employee? All employees are subject to
the same terms and conditions, confidentiality agreements and
disciplinary procedures, so where is the problem?

Yet ironically, despite concerns that user employees will break
confidentiality, this is what some members of staff do themselves
when they make a user employee’s colleagues aware of their
“userhood”. In this case, and not for the first time, staff can
learn a thing or two from service users.

Emma Harding is a service user campaigner

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