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Care Guides > What is Advocacy in Health and Social Care?

What is Advocacy in Health and Social Care?

An advocate chatting with a care seeker

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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In this article:

  1. What is advocacy?
  2. What is an advocate?
  3. When might you need an advocate?
  4. Different types of advocacy
  5. How to find an advocate in health and social care
  6. Do you have a right to advocacy?
  7. When does advocacy duty apply?



What is Advocacy?

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:

  • You or your loved one’s views are heard and properly taken into account when making decisions
  • You or your loved one are aware of your rights
  • You or your loved one can make informed decisions and be supported in doing so
  • In a care home or somewhere similar, all residents should be treated with respect and dignity in care



What is an Advocate?

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:

  • Help you make and review a care plan or care package
  • Show you how to access the health services you require, including ones provided by social workers
  • Arrange and accompany you to meetings or medical appointments (if you don’t feel confident enough to attend by yourself). This could include a care needs assessment
  • Provide whatever support is required during these meetings
  • Get in touch with relevant people for you (or they can pass on the contact details for you to make contact)
  • Provide any information you require (or point you in the right direction of it)
  • Help you explore what options are available to you, as well as making you aware of your rights. This includes discussing any changes to your health and social care, including discharge from the hospital or a similar care facility (this discharge may occur with one of the Discharge to Assess pathways in mind)
  • Register formal complaints on your behalf (these complaints could be related to the NHS or any other health and social care organisation)
  • Where necessary, liaise with a Community Mental Health Team on your behalf

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.


A female advocate speaking to a care seeker





When Might You Need an Advocate?

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:

  • Appealing care-related decisions
  • Ensuring their rights are properly protected
  • Accessing and checking over their medical records (to make sure everything is in order)
  • Reviewing care-related accommodation (to make sure your loved one is in the right place for their needs)
  • Looking into any safeguarding issues



Different Types of Advocacy

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


Man chatting with older woman





How To Find an Advocate in Health and Social Care

Here’s a range of helpful resources and ways to find an advocate in health and social care:

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.


Woman typing on her computer





Do You Have a Right to Advocacy?

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.





When Does Advocacy Duty Apply?

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:

  • There isn’t anybody else to support and represent you or your loved one
  • They feel that a carer or somebody receiving care may find being fully involved in the care process overwhelming. This person would benefit from some extra support as a result

Older man eating biscuits with a younger advocate





Someone to Speak Up For You

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:

  • Openly discussing care and making decisions
  • Challenging care-related decisions that don’t seem right
  • Writing letters on your behalf
  • Explaining what rights you have in relation to healthcare
  • Arranging and attending meetings
  • Directing you towards useful information
  • Checking through your medical records to see if these have any implications for your future healthcare




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