Two ‘unique and insightful’ doctor training initiatives have been announced as joint winners of a regional NHS health education award after encouraging students to listen and learn from those who know best: the people who use local health services and their carers.

The Psychiatry Teaching Unit (PTU) – run by Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust – along with Derby carer Neil Watkins won the ‘best patient or public involvement in education award’ at Health Education England’s 2017 Excellence in Education Awards for their innovative approaches to educating the psychiatrists and GPs of tomorrow by helping to shape future healthcare improvements through open and honest dialogue.

The PTU – which is based in Derby and instructs fourth-year medical students from the University of Nottingham who are on psychiatry placements – is the only medical teaching unit of its kind to offer undergraduate students an opportunity to put their university-taught theory to the test before qualifying, by doing practice consultations with a group of ‘expert patients’ who then offer feedback about the students’ communication skills.

Each expert patient allows a medical student to take their full psychiatric history, and carry out a mental state examination and risk assessment with them. A doctor or nurse provides feedback on the technical side of the interview. It is the expert patient, however, who feeds back to the medical student on how the process felt: on whether they felt listened to and valued as a person.

Neil Watkins, who volunteers for Derbyshire Healthcare’s children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), co-leads an annual training session for GP trainees as part of the Vocational Training Scheme for doctors who wish to pursue a career in General Practice within Derby and South Derbyshire.

Neil Watkins (right) collects Excellence in Education 2017 award with his wife Dinah Watkins (left)

As a father and full-time carer to his 18-year-old daughter Lydia who has autism and learning disabilities, Neil brings an intimate viewpoint to the session about the challenges disabled children, young people and their families can encounter when accessing health services and support.

Canvassing on behalf of Lydia, himself and other local parents, he opens up about Lydia’s initial diagnosis, early support, experience of different services and daily family life living with a disabled child.

Real and highly relevant experiences, gained from Neil’s research of Derby and Derbyshire’s GP surgeries, assists the learning of aspiring doctors’ by challenging their understanding of the needs of children with complex conditions and encourages them to reflect on how improvements can be made to their own practice.

Speaking about the award-winners’ achievements, Mark Powell, Acting Chief Operating Officer for Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said:

I’m delighted that the team at the Psychiatry Teaching Unit and Neil Watkins have been announced as joint-winners of this sought-after Excellence in Education Award, as their approaches exemplifies all that is best about modern healthcare.

The work of the expert patients and carers is helping to shift old ideas about the doctor-patient relationship from something that is passive and one-way to something that is dynamic and collaborative. Both parties benefit – in fact, the medical students consistently tell us that their unique sessions with the expert patients and carers are some of the most insightful and useful during their placements and educational sessions.”