Lewisham primary care recovery college pilot project

Recovery College Pilot at-a-glance

A new way to support people with mental health needs in primary care, through 10 week courses delivered by clinical experts alongside people with lived experience of mental health conditions.
The team wanted to find a way to help people whose mental health needs more support than a GP can offer in a short appointment, but don’t need acute services. They were also inspired by the power of these courses to connect people through shared experience.
• Improved and open access for people who need support.
• In South East London, 40 per cent of GP consultations relate to mental health. This could help reduce pressure on primary care at the same time as improving access.
• This is a new way to improve patients’ understanding of conditions, confidence in managing their health independently and personal resilience: and for this to have a measurable impact on their subsequent patterns of contact with a clinician.
• Increases opportunities for patients/service users and carers within primary care to work within a co-production framework, learn together and reduce of mental health stigma within the primary care environment.
• Strong example of care delivered in different settings and opportunities for primary care to offer new services in collaboration with other parts of the system.
• An opportunity to gather evidence and make the case for a sustainable roll-out.
• Recovery colleges quite new so evidence base is still emerging but studies to date show a high return on social investment – up to £10.81 for every £1.


Recovery College: innovating to improve mental health support in primary care 

A new project to take mental health recovery, self-management and wellbeing workshops into GP practices will be funded by the HIN Innovation Grants.

From the team that leads SLaM’s successful Recovery College, this project will take its model to GP practices. Recovery Colleges focus on hope, opportunity and choice/control- co production. They enable the students to become experts in their own self-care, and develop skills they need for living and working.

Students are usually individuals who do not currently need acute mental health services but do need more support than they’re able to get from busy GPs at present. It could be for a very wide range of conditions, for example long term stress or low-level depression and anxiety that affects people’s daily lives but not to the point where it needs acute intervention.

The project will provide free, co-produced self-management, recovery and wellbeing workshops and courses for patients, carers and staff in primary care, using shared perspectives, skills and knowledge to help people recover and live as well as possible. By extending into GP practices for the first care, it aims to reach more people with support and improve access.

The pilot college will be based within a health centre in Lewisham and aimed at service users/patients registered with five GP surgeries at in and around New Cross. A key part of the approach is that the trainers are paired together so that there is one ‘peer recovery trainer’ – someone who has lived experience of mental ill-health or distress as a service user – and a ‘professional trainer’ – someone who has professional experience. This means students get the clinical perspective and a personal narrative so that they can discuss and learn from someone who knows what it can be like, and feel more comfortable to share personal experiences.

Recovery College also helps people to network and meet people who are in a similar circumstance, increasing peer support. Often people are isolated and benefit from social networks. Learning about staying well in addition to having opportunities to stay connected can be very helpful for recovery. The team plans to offer a range of courses over a ten week pilot period. The courses will be co-designed, based on current SLaM Recovery College content, including topics around depression, anxiety, mindfulness, staying well and making plans and wellbeing.

The pilot will accept both referrals from GPs as well as self-referrals, with a maximum of 20 – 25 per workshop. Increasing access and routes to this kind of support will not only support people with their mental health, it aims to reduce the need for these individuals to use GP appointments for support that can be offered through the college.

The use of peer trainers has been very successful at SLaM Recovery College to date. Taking the peer trainer model into primary care is likely to be an extra and impactful support for the current NHS workforce when designing services and an additional forward step to tackle stigma and culture around mental health services.

Find out more about our work in mental health


Innovator Spotlight

Kirsty Giles, Manager (OT), SLaM Recovery College, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Our hope is that this pilot shows that recovery colleges can become an essential part of the primary care landscape, improving access to support for people with mental health needs while reducing the pressure on traditional GP appointments. Our trainers and our students are really brave, by putting themselves out there and sharing their story to help someone else. The approach is welcoming and effective.

“The college works with a really diverse group of people. As clinicians, we’re always learning from our students’ lived experience and are inspired by how they look after their wellbeing. This is a two-way knowledge exchange.”

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