News Opinion

Advocacy: Making a world of difference

Marie McWilliams is Operations Manager of the Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (OPPAL

Some older people struggle to cope with decision making when there are often too many complicated decisions to be made.

The new personalised approach to health and social care provision in these times of austerity can leave individuals floundering and unsure. Traditional methods of providing support such as quickly sourcing day care and arranging home care now seem overly complicated by form filling and self assessment. How many older people do we know who understate their ill health or incapacity to carry out basic tasks? Too often this can result in older people receiving far fewer services than they really need to live independently, leading to premature hospital and care home admissions and/or exhausted and stressed family carers.

Independent advocacy can make a world of difference. The support of someone who is there to listen and who is only on the side of the older person ensures that the older person retains their dignity and control over their own lives; so often seemingly lost these days. We only need to read documents like the Frances report on Mid Staffs hospital or the Serious Case Review carried out after the shocking ill treatment of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View to see that things need to change. Independent advocacy won’t cure all ills in the care and support of vulnerable older people but it can and does transform the lives of many. For example OPAAL’s peer volunteer led Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme has now supported over 2,000 older people affected by cancer.

Frank and Lynn’s story is another example of the difference that advocacy can make.  Frank cares for Lynn and they needed Lynn’s care package reviewed. Prior to Yasmin their advocate getting involved, Frank was looking after Lynn for 106 hours a week and hadn’t been out by himself in 5 years. You can see for yourself how advocacy helped to improve things for Frank and Lynn by watching their short film here.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that with the relatively recent introduction of statutory advocacy provision under the Care Act that those older people unable to speak up for themselves would be faring better. However, evidence indicates that more than half of advocacy providers consider arrangements for referral to their Care Act advocacy services as not working, often attributing this to frontline staff’s lack of understanding of their duty to refer.

At the same time, Local Authorities who previously funded non-statutory advocacy services, those services which catch those who fall through the safety net, have reported prioritising statutory advocacy as a result of financial austerity: 22% of commissioners reported either stopping commissioning or reducing access to non-statutory advocacy.

With an ageing population the number of older people needing support is on the increase. At the same time the independent advocacy services needed to support them are underfunded and undervalued.

One of the biggest benefits of advocacy services to health and social care staff is that whilst advocacy intervention helps improve the lives of the older people it serves, it can also help health and social care professionals meet the outcomes they’re looking to achieve for those older people.

Back in 2015 Public Health England reported “ Both one-to-one and group interventions, with advocates to help support and speak up for older people, appear to have the potential to help older people to cope better with long-term conditions and their effects, access appropriate services and help, and to empower them to take greater control of their health.”

If you’re currently working hand in hand with your local advocacy provider then keep up the good work. If you’re not, why not give them a call? Talk to them about how you might work together to benefit your local community. They’ll be glad to hear from you.

Marie McWilliams is Operations Manager of the Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (OPPAL). You can find out more about advocacy and how it changes people’s lives on the OPAAL website: www.opaal.org.uk

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