Dealing with professionals in the care or health system can sometimes feel intimidating and you may find it difficult to express your views. If you need support, an independent advocate can help you say what you want, get the information you need and make sure your rights are protected.
What is independent advocacy?
Advocacy services help people – especially the most vulnerable – to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. The health and care system can seem complex and confusing and saying what you want can be stressful, especially if you need ongoing support.
An advocate can:
help you express your opinions
help you understand and explore your choices
offer practical help, such as writing letters and attending meetings
make sure the correct procedures are followed.
An independent advocate may be helpful if there is any disagreement between you, your health or social care professionals or even family members about a decision that needs to be made.
An independent advocate should represent your wishes without judging or giving a personal opinion. You might not get the outcome you want but an advocate can make sure your voice is heard.
When you might need an advocate
You might want to have an advocate with you or to speak on your behalf in the following situations:
during assessments, such as hospital discharge or needs assessments
when planning or reviewing your care and support
if there are changes to your services
if there is an investigation into possible abuse
when making a complaint.
Types of advocacy
There are different types of advocacy, ranging from self-advocacy - where you receive training to help you put your own views across - to professional advocacy. Some independent advocates are trained specifically to communicate and work with people with dementia and other mental health problems. An advocacy service may be run by volunteers.
Mental capacity means having the ability to understand, retain and use information to make and express decisions about your life. Mental capacity can fluctuate and it must never be assumed that someone lacks mental capacity. Doing so could deprive them of their rights.
How to find an advocate
Your local council should be able to provide information about advocacy services in your area. You may also want to contact an organisation that deals with your specific needs.
OPAAL is a national organisation supporting independent advocacy services for older people. Your local Healthwatch may be able to help you with complaints advocacy or put you in touch with local services (in Wales, contact your local Community Health Council and, in Scotland, contact the Patient Advice and Support Service). The mental health charity Mind can put you in touch with local advocacy services in England and Wales.
This short video, from the charity OPAAL (embedded with their kind permission), features Mike, who talks about the impact of his cancer diagnosis and how things changed for him when he was introduced to Bob, his volunteer peer advocate.