Background Patient involvement in health care is a strong political driver in the NHS. However in spite of policy prominence, there has been only limited previous work exploring patient involvement for people with serious mental illness. Aim To describe the views on, potential for, and types of patient involvement in primary care from the perspectives of primary care health professionals and patients with serious mental illness. Design of study Qualitative study consisting of six patient, six health professional and six combined focus groups between May 2002 and January 2003. Setting Six primary care trusts in the West Midlands, England. Method Forty-five patients with serious mental illness, 39 GPs, and eight practice nurses participated in a series of 18 focus groups. All focus groups were audiotaped and fully transcribed. Nvivo was used to manage data more effectively. Results Most patients felt that only other people with lived experience of mental illness could understand what they were going through. This experience could be used to help others navigate the health- and social-care systems, give advice about medication, and offer support at times of crisis. Many patients also saw paid employment within primary care as a way of addressing issues of poverty and social exclusion. Health professionals were, however, more reluctant to see patients as partners, be it in the consultation or in service delivery. Conclusions Meaningful change in patient involvement requires commitment and belief from primary care practitioners that the views and experiences of people with serious mental illness are valid and valuable
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