People who have received treatment for substance abuse should be involved in developing drug and alcohol services, according to new research from the University of Aberdeen.
A panel of public health experts from the Aberdeen Centre for Health Data Science have published a report on the importance of giving service users a voice in the journal PLoS Global Public Health.
The team of experts worked with research organisations, services, and non-profit and advocacy groups in South Africa. The panel wanted to establish new ways to improve engagement and dialogue in public drug and alcohol services.
The project will last eight years and will examine how best to engage participants and improve retention in drug and alcohol services.
Reaching marginalised communities
The first phase of the project focused on establishing alcohol and drugs as a key priority in rural parts of South Africa. The team wanted to highlight the benefits of involving the people who will use health improvement services in the development of programmes.
Dr Lucia D’Ambruoso suggested this approach would benefit health systems across the world, including the NHS.
“Whilst this project is based on work with rural communities in South Africa, alcohol and drugs serious present public health problems to our own communities and Health Service in Scotland. The lessons that we have learned from our community-led approach in South Africa are also very relevant here at home,” explained Dr D’Ambruoso.
Dr D’Ambruoso led an initiative that created spaces for people and health systems to work alongside each other to address common health concerns.
“We took a participatory approach where we shared power throughout the research process: the health issues under investigation were not imposed by outsiders, but were instead directed by participants,” added Dr D’Ambruoso.
The team felt it was possible to raise community voices on local public health concerns. The researchers noticed that marginalised communities, such as people in rural areas, rarely featured in the development of public services. The team speculated that people from these communities may have a distrust of authorities. They wanted to target this issue by creating spaces where marginalised people could connect with public health stakeholders and work cooperatively on new projects.
“The process needed time, space and a sensitive, inclusive, informed approach shifting power and control towards those most affected and, adapting to changing circumstances and needs. The authorities embraced the process and there has been formal recognition and uptake in other settings in South Africa,” said Dr D’Ambruoso.
Introducing new drug and alcohol services in UK
Dr D’Ambruoso and her team are now in discussion with planners and policymakers from the NHS. The team plan on introducing new-participatory approaches as part of strategic plans and priorities on substance use in the UK.
“Local drug and alcohol services in NHS Grampian have recently become very pro-active in exploring the most effective means of incorporating genuine lived experience into all aspects of service development and delivery,” said John Mooney, Consultant in Public Health with NHS Grampian.
“The work of Dr D’Ambruoso and colleagues with very marginalised service user groups in South Africa is therefore likely to be of great significance as we look towards fully engaging our lived experience community across our whole multi-agency network of drug and alcohol service provision,” he concluded.