prof sugarmanThe chief executive of the UK's largest mental health charity has welcomed the success of the Department of Health's flagship ImROC (Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change) project but said "there is still a long way to go to put recovery at the heart of NHS commissioning".

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb helped launch the next phase of the ImROC project on February 14 and highlighted its success so far in helping local services focus more on recovery.

"Recovery and recognising that people with even the most severe mental health problems can recover is a crucial part of modern mental health services, which is why it forms one of the six priorities of the government's mental health strategy,” he said.

"Through ImROC, mental health service providers are recognising that people with direct experience of mental ill health can offer just as valuable expertise as medics and clinicians. Combined, they can gently revolutionise mental health care in this country, and ensure people with mental health problems can live the lives they want to, with strong relationships, a sense of purpose and independence."

The first phase of ImROC, which was launched in 2011, involved 29 NHS and independent mental health organisations, including 6 'demonstrator' sites which were already advanced in delivering recovery-focused services and 6 pilot sites, including St Andrew's.

The second phase of the project is open to all mental health providers that want to become recovery-focused. It will continue to be run through a partnership between the NHS Confederation's Mental Health Network (MHN) and Centre for Mental Health.

The objective is to go further than 'just' involvement, creating a culture of working together in partnership in every aspect of the organisation's work. But Professor Philip Sugarman from St Andrew's Healthcare has challenged Lamb to show this is happening across the NHS.

"As the only non-NHS pilot site to be included in the ImROC the project, St Andrew's Healthcare has been working alongside many major NHS mental health trusts to embed recovery principles in mental healthcare," he said.

"Recovery needs to be at the heart of NHS commissioning. Whilst some innovations have moved us forward, there is still a long way to go to achieve this vital aim. We need to put recovery at the heart of services, and for service users and staff to truly relate as equals.”

One of the central features of a recovery-focused organisation is establishing a local 'recovery college' which offers courses on living with mental health problems designed jointly by people with lived experience of mental illness and mental health professionals.

A recent survey of participants at the South West London Recovery College showed very high levels of satisfaction with the College and a significant reduction in the use of community mental health services.

A second key element is the introduction of peer support workers into clinical teams, including inpatient wards and community settings. Preliminary data from these kinds of projects suggest that they are not only highly effective in terms of improving quality, but they can also result in significant cost savings.

Sean Duggan, chief executive of Centre for Mental Health, said: "The Government’s mental health strategy, No health without mental health, sets a clear objective that 'more people with mental health problems will recover'. ImROC can support organisations to reshape their services to give more people the chance to recover and to fulfil their potential. With professionals ‘on tap’ not ‘on top’, and hope, control and opportunity as the core principles of mental health services, we can achieve lasting change in people’s lives and life chances."