Help at hand

The new UKAN website at www.ukan.network lets you tap into expertise when you need it. Pardeep Grewal explains.

Sometimes we want to ask a question, share an experience, get help with a tricky situation or just let off some steam. For this we really need a network of like-minded people. You might be one of the lucky ones working in a stable team that never changes, or where expert advice and supervision is readily available. Unfortunately, the rest of us are left wanting.

Recovery workers, if they ever come up for air, struggle to connect with peers or ask questions. There is a good argument that volunteers, psychologists, dual diagnosis specialists, administrators, pharmacist and others working in addictions need access to a supportive online community, where they can meet peers, open up, share knowledge and be curious.

UK Addiction Network (UKAN) is aimed squarely at these groups. It is free to join and works a little like the groups you find on Facebook and LinkedIn. The big difference is that UKAN is designed specifically for people working in addictions and offers the wider range of discussion topics, forums, polls and blogs. Content is sensibly moderated by the UKAN team, all of whom work in the field and seem to know their stuff. And there is strength in numbers; if you have a thorny problem at work there is good chance there is a UKAN member out there who can help.

The person behind the idea is Georges Petitjean. Trained in Belgium and London, he has an interest in how groups can function better. He recently found himself working in a busy residential detoxification unit. The pace was frenetic, with little time for networking or peer support. The small but dedicated team of doctors, nurses, recovery workers and volunteers were all left to get on with things. They muddled along but inevitably came up against situations with no easy answer.

UKAN founder Georges Petitjean: ‘I was assessing a new patient… I wasn’t sure what to do. My line manager had left work already and I didn’t know who to turn to.’

Georges remembers a typical situation. ‘It was Friday evening and I was assessing a new patient who had been admitted for a benzodiazepine detox. He said he was allergic to diazepam. I wasn’t sure what to do. My line manager had left work already and I didn’t know who to turn to.’ Then it occurred to him that there might be another way of accessing support: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could post a question online to all the people working in detox units in the UK?’

The idea chimed with his colleagues, especially those working in small teams and where access to a peer support was limited. His hunch was right; people naturally connected online with new peers and colleagues, sharing knowledge and making friends on the way. ‘We searched the web,’ Georges explained, ‘but it was mostly full of adverts or commercial providers. There was nothing for people like us. So the decision to start UKAN was pretty straightforward. The site just needed to be accessible, useful, fun and free.’ He has extended the concept to allow members to upload a few photos of themselves. In fact, a photo is now required to register and helps ensure transparency.

The site is certainly straightforward and accessible. You are greeted by a simple newsfeed on a distinctive crimson border and the site is absent of clutter and advertising. The intention is to keep it as free access, funded by money from training, workshops and learning. What UKAN does not do is dictate official guidelines and standards as FDAP, RCGP and others are available for that. But for those interested in learning, there is plenty on offer.

The site has an e-learning foundation programme, with all the necessary elements for good practice, such as assessment, harm reduction, treatment and care planning. There are even role-specific modules to enhance skills for prescribers, recovery workers and volunteers. All the content is developed by experienced workers and includes knowledge progress tests, and a certificate of completion. For those wanting more there are specific workshops and webinars you can attend, all delivered with a healthy amount of networking and socialising.

If the purpose of UKAN is to connect people it will probably succeed. How much face-to-face contact it will promote has yet to be seen, and this is largely up to those who use it. It has an obvious place in a world increasingly connected online and where good quality information is hard to come by. Georges has plans to add an events page so people can attend formal supervision sessions, organise peer group meetings and social events. I’m looking forward to getting some online discussions started on just this topic.

Pardeep Grewal is a psychiatrist

 

Join the UKAN community at www.ukan.network

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