Mental health services can manage risk more effectively by involving service users in planning for safety, says a briefing paper published today by Centre for Mental Health and the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, as part of the Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC) programme.

Risk, Safety and Recovery, by Jed Boardman and Glenn Roberts, argues that risk and safety are rightly major concerns in mental health care but that traditional methods of assessing risk have stood in the way of helping people to recover their lives. It argues that jointly produced ‘safety plans’ can be more effective ways of managing risk as well as enabling people to get on with their lives.

Risk, Safety and Recovery shows that ‘person-centred safety planning’ can bring professionals, service users and carers together to manage safety within recovery-supportive relationships. It shows that some NHS trusts have now started to change the way they manage risk and safety by updating their standards, procedures and staff training. And it calls for national leaders, provider organisations, professional bodies and practitioners to support the adoption of person-centred safety planning across the country.

Dr Jed Boardman, consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and ImROC consultant, said:

"Overly defensive, risk-avoidant practice is bad practice that results in poor outcomes. Traditional risk management has been professionally dominated and focused on high-level risks, yet ignored the everyday risks that affect most people who use mental health services most of the time. This has created an imbalance that now needs to be corrected.

"Service users and practitioners all have something to gain from successful risk management and they should be able to work together when making safety plans. Making risk management as a collaborative, shared task is likely to enhance public and personal safety at the same time as giving people the chance to recover their lives on their own terms."

Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the Mental Health Network said:

"This paper proposes a new approach to managing risk but it is one which is supported by existing national policies. This is ImROC setting the challenge to providers who must now ensure person centred safety planning becomes a reality for those using our services."