Independent advocacy helps people uphold their rights.
It enables individuals to speak up, to express their wishes, and to gain control over their lives. This is crucial for people who receive healthcare and social care services.
Advocacy has never been so important. In the wake of the global pandemic, ahead of tough economic times and given the continuing exposure of poor care and support for vulnerable individuals, the role of the advocate safeguards and empowers the people who need it most.
Independent advocacy in a nutshell
Independent advocates are structurally removed from health and social care commissioners, providers, and regulators. This ensures they only speak for the people they are representing and have no conflict of interest.
Independent advocates do not make decisions for people. They provide individuals with the necessary information to enable them to express their wishes for themselves.
If a person does not have the mental capacity or ability to express themselves, an independent advocate will speak on their behalf. They will consult the person if possible, access information about the person, and speak to friends and family should this be possible.
Certain individuals are automatically and legally eligible for the services of an advocate.
This includes people who:
- are deemed to lack capacity under the proviso of the Mental Capacity Act;
- are subject to Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) assessments;
- are detained under the Mental Health Act;
- are who may have “substantial difficulty” in participating in care and support assessment, planning and reviews as well as safeguarding processes.
Many advocacy services exist in local areas to help other people who may not otherwise be legally entitled to the support of an advocate but for whom this is still very important.
NHS & healthcare advocacy
NHS patients have the right to access the services of an independent advocate if they have a complaint about the treatment or care that they or a friend or family member have received from an NHS service.
This support is available at every stage of the complaints process. Such advocates do not work for the NHS or the hospital or healthcare provider that delivered the service.
Advocates can support people who have a complaint about:
- a hospital or GP surgery
- a dentist
- a pharmacist
- an optician
- an NHS funded care home
- a specialist service
- the ambulance service
- NHS community staff
- other NHS staff or clinicians
An independent advocate can provide support in complaints regarding poor treatment or care, poor attitude of staff and communication, waiting times, a lack of information, and failures to diagnose a condition.
You can also access your local Healthwatch for assistance with your complaint.
Healthwatch is a statutory body which helps users of health and social care services and members of the public, both nationally and locally.
Local Healthwatch also provides and signposts to information to help people make choices about health and care services.
The coronavirus has highlighted the inequalities which continue to exist in our society.
There will be many people who have experienced difficulties in accessing services or in expressing their wishes. There will also be people who have unfortunately received a poor service from the NHS or from a social care provider.
BAME communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the crisis, as have older people. Those with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, and mental health conditions have also been highlighted as groups who have experienced significant difficulties throughout the crisis.
They are very often the very people that independent advocacy aims to support. And very often they are the very people whose rights to access advocacy are protected and enabled by legislation.
Independent advocacy is still available – and a legal right – for people who are using health and care services and who want support in making choices, in speaking up for themselves or in raising concerns and complaints about things that are (or are not) happening.
Many people have concerns at the present time. Local authorities and the NHS have been forced to reprioritize some services or consider reducing the type of support that can be safely arranged.
Advocates can play a key role in “do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation” (DNACPR) orders, in protecting people’s rights in lockdown scenarios, and in issues that arise because of the heightened pressures on the NHS and social care services.
Independent advocates are here to ensure the views, experiences, and human rights of people are respected, not forgotten, whilst also assisting Health care providers when they too need to be seen to ‘be doing things the right way’.
Covid-19 has not changed the right of anyone to receive care and treatment or to access independent advocacy to ensure they do so.
About The Author:
Stacey Smith is a freelance health writer. She is passionate to write about women’s health, dental health, diabetes, endocrinology, and nutrition and provides in-depth features on the latest in health news for medical clinics and health magazines.