Advocacy benefits individuals and provides collective mechanisms to improve health and social care systems says survey

advocacy report

In the UK as a whole the most recent estimate from an Action for Advocacy survey is that 55.4% of advocacy organisations provide services for people with learning disabilities, although there is growing concern about the precarious nature of funding for many of those services.

The IHAL report points to the argument that the development of personalised supports, personal budgets and the major changes being undertaken in the organisation of services commissioning means that there is likely to be more rather than less demand for advocacy services.

The researchers in this study therefore wanted to look at a number of questions about advocacy services, looking in particular at

  • The nature and extent of advocacy services for people with learning disabilities in England
  • How funding changes would affect these services
  • The impact of advocacy on health and health services for people with learning disabilities

Their consultation with advocacy commissioners, organisations and networks suggested that concerns existed about how important it was to track changes to funding, to be clear about definitions of advocacy and the differences between different types. They also found that there were a number of concerns expressed about the development of generic advocacy providers and the possible loss of focus on advocacy for people with learning disabilities.

Thr initial consultation was followed by two surveys, the first of advocacy organisation and the second of commissioner organsations as well as detailed case study work with three advocacy organisations.

From all of the above, the researchers found clear evidence of the importance of advocacy services for people with learning disabilities to ensure they had a voice, could achieve equality and ensure their rights were protected and to challenge services.

They found commissioners also saw a key role for advocacy including offering the opportunity for what they termed a ‘big voice’ , enabling people to work together around issues of common concern like hate crime.

Examples of good practice around health included things like ‘Big Health Check’ days with commissioners suggesting this had improved rates of attendance at annual health checks as well as pilot schemes to tackle hate crime, involvement in day service reform, and training of healthcare professionals.

They found that reductions in funding impacted on quality and quantity of services, with two thirds of organisations believing their work to improve health services would be affected by changes to funding.

They suggest there is a need for further research on how advocacy outcomes can be monitored by commissioners to help establish common approaches to the collection and consistency of data.
They conclude by stating that

it seems clear that advocacy provides individual benefits for people with learning disabilities but also provides mechanisms for groups to act collectively to make important changes to local health and social care systems.

read the full report here: Advocacy by and for adults with learning disabilities in England, Roberts H et al., IHAL

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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