Consulting and involving service users in drug and alcohol services is now compulsory under the Health and Social Care Act 2001.

However, there appears to be no guidance on involvement in staff recruitment. KCA, a non-statutory service employing about 200 staff in the South East, provides a range of interventions, including needle exchange and counselling. In 2004, service users were involved in recruiting 12 out of 50 appointments.Building on work done by East London and City Mental Health trust's healthy options team, HOT's work showed that service users asked questions which may not be considered so readily by professionals. In particular, they paid close attention to applicants' ability to develop rapport. In three cases, applicants spent time in a drop-in centre with service users who gave structured feedback to the panel. This reduced anxieties felt by users in more formal settings.At KCA, service users took part in formal interviews, assessed applicants' interactional skills and involved in decisions.Involving service users improves decisionmaking and was especially helpful for evaluating competencies around interaction. KCA has set a target to involve them in half of appointments.People only involved once in formal interviewing did not get the same benefits. A better option for small organisations or those with low turnover might be group discussions with service users.

Jaye Foster is service manager of HOT. Neil Hunt is director of research, Karen Tyrell is development manager and Vanessa Cropper is service manager at KCA. For the full version of this paper email: neil@dadden.demon.