Mental health service users claim to have gatecrashed a job interview for the director of a new organisation spearheading partnership with social services.

Five community activists left another meeting to join candidates being interviewed by a panel for the post at North Derbyshire Confederation of Adult Mental Health Services.

Members of the North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield Association for Self-Help Groups have welcomed North Derbyshire health authority's plan to transfer acute inpatient services to the organisation.

It will manage social workers and acute psychiatrists as well as community mental health services.

But NEDCASH chair Alan Smith said: 'Decisions taken at this confederation will affect our lives and health. Users should be involved in any decision- making that goes on - at the end of the day it is the user who gets the pain.'

Mr Smith said the interview panel, which was meeting candidates on the first day of a two-day process, 'was shocked' when the activists turned up.

But Community Health Care Services (North Derbyshire) trust chief executive Martin Taylor said service users had been invited to last month's meeting. 'The first day was not a formal part of the selection process; it was an opportunity to meet the candidates.'

Service user groups had not been invited to the second day of interviews 'because of the difficulty of identifying one user group over the large geographical area we cover'.

Mr Taylor said the confederation was a 'radical' structure, anticipating the mental health national service framework.

'Once the national service framework is published, more and more areas will have to go down the integrated route. It is clearly the government's agenda and it fits the client's needs for integration between health and social services.'

The confederation, due to be established in October, will manage up to 500 staff, from consultant psychiatrists to community psychiatric nurses and social workers.

Mr Taylor said: 'It is a single management regardless of who employs who.'

Social workers will be seconded to the confederation. They will not be directly employed because of the legal difficulties in transferring contracts from local authorities to the NHS.

Mr Smith said his members had been impressed by the candidates' 'thoughtful' answers to their questions about involving service users.

But he maintained that the trust had not given NEDCASH notice of the meeting, saying 'it was sheer chance' that his members had been able to attend.

The successful candidate, Sandra Mitchell, head of mental health at Doncaster Healthcare trust, said: 'I welcomed the opportunity to meet the service user groups on the briefing day.'