Advocates in health and social care are there to help guide you through this often confusing environment. While professional caregivers - such as staff in a care home - will look after you or your loved one, advocates can provide additional support where needed.
Advocates can help with several things, such as creating a care plan on your behalf, arranging meetings and making you aware of your rights concerning healthcare. Put simply, advocates aim to best represent your interests.
Keep reading to learn more about advocacy in health and social care, including the different types and where to find an advocate.
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Advocacy exists to benefit people who require some help navigating the world of health and social care. Through advocacy, you or your loved one can be supported to express your views and wishes. You’ll also be given the confidence to stand up for your rights (or somebody can do this on your behalf).
Somebody who does these things for you is known as an advocate.
Here are the main aims of health and social care advocacy:
An advocate helps people - often older adults or people with a disability/similar condition - achieve the main aims we mentioned above. Advocates provide various advocacy services - each of which should enable you to best express your views in various ways.
Along with these aims and objectives, an advocate can also:
Remember, advocates should offer compassionate support without ever appearing to be judgemental. Similarly, advocates shouldn’t ever make decisions on your behalf or appear as though they’re actively trying to push you towards a particular decision.
If you find it tough to decide on the best option for your care - or find the relevant options difficult to grasp - then the law says you may need an advocate. You may also fall into this category if you have a physical disability or an age-related condition such as dementia.
An Independent Mental Capacity Advocate will be assigned to your loved one if they find it difficult to make decisions or understand the different options for care. Your loved one may find it difficult to make decisions because of an illness or condition, a brain injury, learning difficulties or something else.
This advocate can do several things on your loved one’s behalf, including:
There are several different types of advocacy services. Different advocates are specially trained to work with people who have specific health conditions or requirements. Here are the most common types of advocacy services:
Self-advocacy - Often, the best form of advocacy is thought to be when people are able to speak up for themselves. Self-advocacy groups help you feel confident enough to do this - by bringing people together who often use similar services or have similar interests
Citizen advocacy - A citizen advocate is somebody who voluntarily speaks up for and supports somebody else. A citizen advocate will be unpaid and is often considered a valued member of their local community. The relationship between a citizen advocate and the person they’re speaking on behalf of is based on trust and discretion
Community advocacy - This kind of advocacy isn’t considered a legal entitlement. Community advocacy services offer help and support with situations you’re likely to encounter in day-to-day life. A community advocate can also help you with writing letters and arranging or attending meetings
Group advocacy - A group of people with similar experiences support each other. Various mental health charities, as well as organisations such as your local Mind can provide more information on this type of advocacy
Peer advocacy - People who have been through the same experiences are often best placed to support each other. Through peer advocacy, an advocate and their advocacy partner share their stories. This is usually specific to mental health and could take place between two people with a learning disability
Statutory advocacy - Some Government policies and laws directly relate to advocacy and the support needed by certain people. These include the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (which provides a framework for people who make decisions on behalf of those who lack the mental capacity to do so themselves) and the Mental Health Act 2007
Independent mental health advocacy - You’ll be eligible for support from an independent mental health advocate if you’ve been given a Community Treatment Order. You may have also been detained under some sections of the Mental Health Act 1983. A mental health advocate can help you access your medical records or information about your rights relating to medical care. They can also help you appeal any decisions you believe to have been unfairly awarded
Care and support advocacy - A care and support advocate will guide you through the process of finding care through your local council. They may organise and attend a care needs assessment or financial assessment with you, appeal decisions on your behalf, help you make a care plan and help you find the right care option (such as a care home or home care)
Issue-based advocacy - An issue-based advocate will primarily help you or your loved one complain about the NHS. Issue-based advocates have access to and knowledge surrounding lots of different NHS procedures, including things like the complaints process, other useful resources and how you should write letters to various organisations. An issue-based advocate can also direct your complaint to the Health Service Ombudsman if you weren’t satisfied with the response you receive from an NHS service such as NHS continuing healthcare
Here’s a range of helpful resources and ways to find an advocate in health and social care:
Mind has lots of resources designed to help people find relevant independent advocacy services
Use Rethink Mental Illness to find an online directory of advocacy services across the UK
Advocacy Support Cymru provides mental health advocacy in Wales
OPAAL is a national organisation supporting independent advocacy services for older adults
Your local council or authority should also be able to direct you towards relevant advocacy services in your area.
Once you or your loved one have made initial contact with an advocate, the process can then vary, depending on exactly what you need from them. Generally though, they’ll listen to your concerns and will work with you to figure out what resolution you’d like to reach. They’ll then be in regular contact and will keep you informed as to what’s going on.
Did you know that your or your loved one’s local council has to involve you in decisions relating to your own care?
Regardless of what your needs are and the best way to provide care, local councils are legally obliged to help you or your loved one make fully-informed decisions. They also have to provide a platform so you can make your opinions and wishes regarding care known.
In some cases, you’ll be legally entitled to a professional advocate (for free). Here are the main types of advocates available in England and Wales:
If you live in Scotland, we’d recommend contacting the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance. They’ll explain exactly what options are available to you.
The Care Act 2014 states that advocacy duty equally applies to carers and people receiving care, regardless of what kind of support they currently receive and whereabouts they live.
Sections 67 and 68 of the Care Act 2014 explain how people have a right to advocacy, and how organisations such as local authorities often have a duty to provide you or your loved one with an advocate.
The Care Act 2014 says that local authorities are obliged to arrange an independent advocate on your behalf if:
An advocate can play a huge and important role in your health and social care if you or your loved one don’t feel confident speaking up. Advocates are also crucial in helping you or your loved one understand what kind of care and support is available.
In this article, we’ve outlined some of the specific advocacy types and what each of these roles involves. More broadly, an advocate will support you or your loved one during assessments and when looking for care.
Here are some of the other things an advocate can help you or your loved one with:
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