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What is an advocate in health & social care & what is their role?

The complex processes of the health and social system can be difficult to navigate and understand for vulnerable or disadvantaged people. Although social and healthcare professionals have your best interests at heart, they can often be too busy to give you the attention you need in relation to making decisions, this is where an advocate can be beneficial. They take care of your challenges such as care needs assessments, budget management, managing your healthcare bills, or speaking on your behalf in appeals or complaints. Advocates ensure your rights and interests are protected throughout your interactions with the health and social care system.

What is an advocate in health and social care?

An advocate in health and social care is an individual trained to help you understand your rights, express your views and wishes, and help ensure your voice is heard. An advocate is from an independent not for profit organisation who’ll support you in making the right decisions in relation to your health and social care.  The main objectives of a health and social care advocate are to ensure that the vulnerable person:

  • Is receiving equal and fair treatment
  • Is fully aware of their rights under the existing legislation and can make informed decisions based on the right advice
  • Voice and views are listened to and respected

What are advocacy services in health and social care?

Advocates offer compassionate support without any judgement. An advocate’s role is to support vulnerable people in making decisions by giving them practical assistance such as:

  • Assisting in designing a residential home care plan and reviewing it to ensure it aligns with the individual’s specific needs
  • Accompanying individuals to health services or medical appointments to ensure the person is cared for correctly or to speak on their behalf
  • Provide support in meetings related to your health and act as a point of contact for people in need of information from you
  • Outlines your rights within the health and social care system and helps you explore options available to you, such as discussing changes to your nursing home care plan and hospital appointments
  • Register formal complaints with the health and social care system on your behalf and ensure your rights are cared for

What are the different types of advocacy?

Advocates are specially trained to work with vulnerable people with specific requirements. The main types of advocacy include:

  • Citizen Advocacy: A citizen’s advocate is someone who voluntarily supports another individual by speaking on their behalf. They are unpaid and considered a valuable member of their local community. There is a great deal of trust between the citizens’ advocate and the vulnerable individual
  • Group advocacy: A group advocacy is a group of people who have experienced similar situations.They rely on this experience to support other individuals
  • Self-advocacy: Self-advocacy is when an individual is able to speak up for themselves. Self-advocacy groups help promote this confidence to speak on behalf of yourself
  • Peer advocacy: Peer advocacy is when people have been through the same experiences and rely on these experiences to support each other
  • Statutory advocacy: Some governmental policies, including the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Mental Health Act 2007, have direct laws in place relating to advocacy and the required support needed by certain people
  • Care and support advocacy: A care and support advocate will assist and support you in finding the best care to support your specific needs. To find this, they may assist you in attending care needs assessments, provide input on your proposed care plan and appeal decisions made on your behalf
  • Issue-based advocacy: An issue-based advocate has access to and knowledge of different NHS processes and procedures. Their role is to assist you in complaining about your experience with the NHS services. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome of your complaint, an issue-based advocate can direct your complaint to the Health Service Ombudsman

When might you need an advocate?

If you struggle to make your own decisions in relation to your care, or find it difficult to discuss and understand your options, then you might need an advocate to support you. By law, you’ll need an advocate if you have difficulty understanding relevant information, retaining information or weighing information (such as being able to see the advantages and disadvantages of different options).

Who is entitled to an advocate?

In some situations, you’ll be legally entitled to get support from an advocate. The law states that you’re entitled to an advocate if you find it difficult to process and retain information regarding your health and social care. This is called ‘statutory advocacy’. In England and Wales, there are three types of statutory advocates:

  • Independent Mental Capacity Advocates: These specially trained advocates are trained to support certain people who fall under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 
  • Independent Mental Health Advocates: These are specially trained advocates who can support certain patients under the Mental Health Act 1983
  • Social Care Advocates: These specially trained advocates support people under the Care Act 2014 (in England) and the Social Services and Wellbeing Act (in Wales)

How to find an advocate in health and social care

There are many ways in which you can find a suitable advocate in health and social care, such as:

  • Contact social care services at your local council to ask about the local advocacy services available
  • Contact an independent charity, such as The Advocacy People or VoiceAbility. These organisations will listen to your concerns and support you throughout the process
  • Contact your local Age UK network to find out if they have advocates available in your area

Utilising help from an advocate can remove your worries when making decisions about your health and social welfare. Advocates take time to understand you, listen to your concerns and work with you to reach a resolution that meets your health and social needs.

If you’re looking for a job in care services, take a look at the current job vacancies at The Fremantle Trust. Whether you have experience working in a care home or not, if you want to put people at the heart of your job, become a volunteer or contact us today.