Neil Springham is Head of Arts Therapies at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust and also co-ordinates the activities of ResearchNet, a network of groups for service users, carers and staff who come together to co-produce research to improve services at Oxleas.


ResearchNet started in 2010; there are now six groups including learning disability, older people’s, families and young person’s services and three in adult mental health. All members become honorary members of staff, undertaking all HR checks, induction and mandatory training. ResearchNet is central in not only collecting and analysing data, but also using the research findings to drive change to services with staff, thereby closing the research cycle. ResearchNet members are not the voice of the service user at Oxleas, but their activity is the main way that the organisation obtains to the voice of service users.

Good Practice

By virtue of its situation within secondary care, and because it undertakes complex projects on the front line of care, ResearchNet has some unique features and key benefits. Service users can be accessed more easily and Oxleas has found them to be more open and candid when they are interviewed by other research members who have used those same services. This is reflected in the high quantity and quality of responses to interviews undertaken. ResearchNet also have a good understanding of the reality of staff experience through observations, interviews and joint working. They have also led reflective practice sessions for staff which have been well received.

ResearchNet is fully embedded within the reporting structures at Oxleas, with members attending the patient experience quality meetings at all levels of the organisation including reports to the board. Members at these meetings review management information such as complaints and contribute to forming trust action plans. Oxleas believes the range of members experience and the fact that they represent views of other service users, as gained through research, as well as their own, increases the validity of their input into management structures and avoids potential problems of service user tokenism in the organisation.

ResearchNet has innovated a number of research methodologies:

  • They developed a process for using timelines and audio-recorded focus groups to build theory through reflection on lived experience;
  • They developed adaptations, now adopted in other parts of the UK and abroad, to Experience Based Co-design (EBCD) so that it can be safely and effectively used with acute mental health situations;
  • Their first EBCD project reduced frequent formal complaints to zero for 23 months on an acute mental health ward;
  • The Trust is now routinely using EBCD in Crisis services in home and day treatment services and acute wards. Currently the process is being used to improve the experience of families and carers in mental health, which is a notoriously difficult problem to address.

ResearchNet have published their projects and have presented regularly within Trust conferences and at National events. Members’ skill and experience has been drawn on by a number of external agencies such as the Healthier London Mental Health Crisis Summit, Time to Change anti-stigma campaign, London Ambulance services and the Institute of Integrated Care. Members have contributed to professional training in psychology, art therapy and nursing.