What is an advocate?
The role of an advocate in health and social care is to support a vulnerable or disadvantaged person and ensure that their rights are being upheld in a healthcare context. Health and social care advocacy means supporting people who are unable to ensure their best interests are being taken care of.
The ultimate objectives in health and social care advocacy are to ensure that:
- The client’s voice, views and experiences are heard and treated with appropriate respect
- The client is receiving equal and fair treatment and is not on the receiving end of ableism
- The client is fully aware of their rights under current legislation and can make informed decisions based on the advice provided
What are advocacy services?
An advocate in health and social care will provide practical assistance with:
- Accessing necessary social services, including those provided by social workers
- Registering formal complaints regarding the conduct of health and social care professionals
- Discussing changes in health and social care, including ongoing care and discharge from hospitals and other institutions
- Providing support during Community Care Assessments and Care Programme Approach (CPA) meetings
- Liasing with the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) on behalf of patients, where necessary
- Accompanying patients to medical appointments
When might you need an advocate?
If someone lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions, for example due to the effects of dementia, a brain injury, severe learning difficulties or other illnesses and conditions, an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) can be appointed. They can help with making decisions about medical treatment and accommodation, and deal with safeguarding issues.
Those who are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 may also qualify for support from an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA). They can access medical records with your consent, appeal decisions about your care and ensure your rights are protected.
What is an advocate in health and social care?: The law
The Care Act of 2014 states that a patient should:
- Be able to take part as fully as possible in any discussion in which decisions are being made about their social care
- Have their views, wishes, feelings and beliefs considered and respected
- Have all their relevant circumstances taken into consideration
An advocate is therefore required when a patient has difficulty understanding, retaining and weighing significant information, and/or communicating relevant views, wishes, feelings and beliefs.
The local authority does not have to provide an advocate if the patient is happy for an ‘appropriate person’ – such as a friend, family member or unpaid carer – to support them.
The following factors disqualify a person from standing as a patient’s appropriate person:
- The patient does not consent to their standing as advocate
- They are the patient’s paid and/or professional carer
- The local authority does not deem their advocacy to be in the patient’s best interest
- The patient does not have the capacity to make decisions regarding their appropriate person (in this situation a professionally appointed advocate is necessary)
How to find an advocate in health and social care
If you or someone you know is in need of a health and social care advocate, it can be difficult to know where to seek this kind of help.
Mind.org.uk has a useful list of resources designed to enabling those with mental health difficulties to find an advocate for this very reason. More locally, Hertfordshire County Council offer support with sourcing a suitable advocate.
POhWer are the UK’s leading advocacy charity, offering independent information, advice and advocacy. Launched in 1996, the charity works hard to help give disadvantaged/vulnerable individuals a voice, and to ensure their opinions are heard. Their services include NHS complaints advocacy, independent mental health advocacy, community advocacy and more. You can find further information on the servies they offer by taking a look at their website.
Bear in mind that if you are entitled to advocacy, you cannot be told that there are no available advocates in your area. Your local authority is legally obliged to provide you with one and if you are told differently, you should not accept this.