Tuesday, 31 July 2012

All Rock, No Blackpool?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Care and Support bill and the fact that it defines advocacy as a social care service for which there may be a need. Identifying needs is important.

Many years ago I did some research about needs evaluation in care planning. It turned out that there was a big difference between what was written in care plans and what was understood and known by ward staff. In general, staff were aware of and acted on a range of information that was rich, complex and arose from an ongoing relationship with the people on the unit. The care plan on the other hand was a bare essentials plan of must do actions. It often missed out some of the most important facts about a person’s needs and abilities because it was assumed that “everyone knows that”. The problem was that when the use of agency staff increased, not everybody did know that.  Lesson; sometimes we assume and imply too much when we really need to spell it out.

On that note, a recent meeting relating to the draft social care bill and white paper is worth exploring. The Department of Health’s interim report on Winterbourne View explicitly stated that the care white paper would explore the role of information, advice and advocacy. In that regard (and many others) it was surprising to see that so little actually appeared in the white paper about advocacy. However, it appears from the meeting at DH  that advocacy is implied within the need for information and advice within the bill. We can argue that it needs to be further developed, that the advocacy “bit” needs to be clarified as somewhat different to the information and advice roles, but we were told that advocacy hadn’t been entirely forgotten. The lessons from Winterbourne are too important for that.

In fact, looking through the principles of the white paper and the aim of the bill, it is hard to imagine the step change in services being delivered without advocacy. You could say that advocacy runs through the white paper like the words in a stick of rock, but I’m concerned that it doesn’t stand out clearly enough. If you haven't been told it's there, if you aren't plugged into the need for advocacy, then you won't notice the word advocacy.

And that means that at the moment with have a stick of rock with no “Blackpool” in it. If the need for advocacy isn’t explicitly spelled out it may get missed when guidance goes from national to local level, something which would reduce the chance of ensuring dignity, choice and control for all. We need the writing to be clearer. If you think so too, please get involved in the consultation on the Care and Support Bill website   – or sign up to Action for Advocacy’s 100 Words on Advocacy.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Caring For Our Future by Forgetting Advocacy?

I’ve just taken a quick look at  “Caring for our future: reforming care and support” and it seems to signal an end to the phrase “information, advice and advocacy”. Information? Yes. Advice? Yes? Advocacy?.....

Well in terms of advocacy there seems to be some misunderstanding, some rewinding of the clock, a whole lot of forgetting and a potentially risky future. Here’s the sum total of the report’s mention of advocacy.

“Advocacy services have been in place for more than 30 years, often providing support for people who lack mental capacity and who have no-one to act on their behalf. These services will continue to play a vital role in supporting people and we need to understand better the benefits of these services and how cost-effective they can be. We will therefore work with partners to develop and disseminate best practice and potential new business models”
That's it. 

Well, most advocacy is for people who have capacity. Overwhelmingly so. It’s not the lack of capacity to make a specific decision that leads people to need advocacy. Rather it’s the experience of not being listened to, not being included in decision making, being discriminated against, being abused, being in receipt of poor or inappropriate services or not being able to access services (including basic health care) at all. Those are the main triggers.  To focus on a lack of capacity risks locating the fault with the individual, not the services. 

And advocacy is not just for people who have no-one to act on their behalf. Not even the IMCA role is limited to this. Many of  carers I spoke to at the social care lobby of parliament talked about wanting an advocate for the person they looked after. And while I’m firmly behind the idea of getting a better view on the impact and effectiveness of services, I'm concerned that this single statement ignores a wealth of evidence pointing to the impact and value of advocacy. 

If that’s the case, forget all of those mentions about the importance of advocacy as a safeguard against abuse and in safeguarding processes. Forget the CQC's thematic review on learning disability services, ignore SCIE guidance on safeguarding, forget the lessons from Winterbourne view, forget the Kerr-Haslam report, forget all the other reports that make the same point. 

Ignore Valuing People, forget about the Care Quality Commission’s excellence framework. Forget about the NHS Confederation’s report Delivering Dignity. Forget the value that the Mental Capacity Act  Code of Practice puts on advocacy as a means of enabling people to be more involved in decisions about their lives (and no, that’s not a reference to IMCA). Forget EHRC's report "From safetynet to springboard". Forget the Law Commission’s report on reforming social, they were obviously having an off day when they recommended realising the right to advocacy for all disabled people. And I can only conclude that the Joint Committee on Human Rights was similarly confused when they supported the call.  Forget them both, forget them all, but remember this.

Every single time someone approaches an advocacy service, it is an indication that they believe some decisions about their life are out of their control; that something about them is being decided without them, that they are at risk or their voice is not being heard. A request for advocacy is a request for autonomy and control. It’s often a sign that the care and support system isn’t working. And, with the exception of some statutory provision, it’s a statement of belief from individual people that advocacy creates real change for them.

So when we look for the effectiveness, cost effectiveness and value of advocacy, let’s make sure we don’t choose models that ignore those problems or are incapable of offering credible solutions. And when it comes to decisions that materially impact on the lives of people who demand advocacy services, let’s live up to the statement  that the health white paper borrowed from the advocacy movement - “Nothing about me without me”.