“AdvoCard is an umbrella organisation and supports Individual Advocacy at AdvoCard; Collective Advocacy: a group ‘Community Voices’; Welfare Reform Advocacy; Edinburgh Carers’ Council; The Patients’ Council of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital; and advocacy at Her Majesty’s Prison. I myself have used three of these avenues: Individual Advocacy, Collective Advocacy and I have attended main meetings of The Patients’ Council of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital. I have used individual advocacy at AdvoCard since 1999 probably on more than seventy occasions. Advocacy is enshrined in The Mental Health (Care & Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 as being the right of any mental patient (which includes people having dementia, people having learning difficulties and people who have personality disorders.) Advocacy is about empowering people in a situation where he or she might be at a disadvantage: where there is a bias against a service user or where there is an imbalance of power. Advocacy is helpful where there is a situation of prejudice; where a person needs to find out what rights he or she has in a given situation; or where clarification about a situation is needed. Advocacy helps to lend support in a situation that may be emotionally threatening; and advocacy is an equaliser. A nurse on the Mental Health Assessment Service at The Royal Edinburgh Hospital once said to me that the purpose of advocacy is where a person is afraid to say something or where a person thinks that he or she will forget something that is discussed at an appointment.
“Some of the purposes for which I have used individual advocacy over the years include appointments with Community Psychiatric Nurses; appointments with Consultant Psychiatrists and appointments with GPs, also appointments at other mental health organisations. Beyond this, into the field of general living I have used advocacy for three separate appointments about different things with a housing officer of a housing association; for an appointment with a utility provider; and for an appointment with a pharmacist, plus many more appointments over the years. The advocacy has comprised prior discussion of the content of an appointment; the appointment itself and then a later discussion to go over notes made by the advocate and by the service user on the appointment, to fine-tune the notes and then to sign the notes as being an accurate representation of the content of the advocacy appointment. Advocacy is used by both service users and carers.
“What individual advocacy brings is peace of mind in the knowledge that the service user’s viewpoint (or carer’s viewpoint) will be listened to. The knowledge that the service user’s (or carer’s) viewpoint will be listened to has a positive knock-on effect onto the service user’s or carer’s state of mind & also this has a calming and stabilising effect on the client’s emotional well being. To approach AdvoCard takes the worry out of a situation. When an advocate has been trained he or she is a professional person and is bidden to keep confidential the content of any discussions. The advocate represents the client’s viewpoint and does not put their own point of view forward. It is usually the case that an advocate will work with AdvoCard for a few months or over a year: and this means that there can be a certain amount of continuity for a client having several different advocacy appointments with the same advocate where this is requested. A service user or carer can choose whether to have a male or female advocate.
“A service that can be offered by AdvoCard is to help to compose a letter for a client. AdvoCard have also supplied for me material obtained from the Internet: for example I have been able to have from AdvoCard material on Named Persons; material on the conditions of paying Council Tax; and material on Duncan Street Dental Clinic, a specialist dental practice for patients who have a problem with ordinary dentistry and who have special dental needs.
“AdvoCard is not a listening service but an advocate may be available for discussing with the client the issues for which the client is seeking advocacy. This helps to crystallise the intention of the advocacy appointment and to clarify the issues of the advocacy appointment. In essence, the advocate and the client can discuss between them the subject matter of the appointment and make decisions as to what is appropriate to be included and as to what is best left out of the discussion. With one exception, every single appointment for advocacy at AdvoCard that I have sought over the years has been successful. I have been treated very well by AdvoCard because there have since 1999 been four occasions when I have had a crisis that has followed me to AdvoCard’s premises: and on all of these occasions (an advocacy worker) has given time to listen and act with compassion to my need, for example, my grief about my late brother’s impending death, and on another occasion about my need to go to the Police. So I have a high opinion of the individual advocacy that is offered by AdvoCard and how AdvoCard fulfils a duty of care.
“With regard to collective advocacy offered by AdvoCard there have been two routes that I have taken. Firstly I have attended general meetings of The Patients’ Council of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital over the years since 1996. The remit of The Patients’ Council of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital is to discuss conditions associated with The Royal Edinburgh Hospital and it is a campaigning group. Anyone may attend the meetings at The Royal Edinburgh Hospital who has been an inpatient or who is an outpatient. Usually there is a guest speaker at the meetings of The Patients’ Council of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital and I have found the meetings in any case to be informative, helpful and interesting as well as being supportive . The Patients Council of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital was taken over by AdvoCard in 2010. The other route that I have taken with regard to collective advocacy has been to be present at meetings of Edinburgh Users’ Forum, another campaigning group but which focused on conditions for mental patients in the community. The topics for which I sought group membership now comprise Community Mental Health Teams; medication; being sectioned; reading case notes; computer training. These are still applicable. However I left Edinburgh Users’ Forum in 2012, I think about a year after Edinburgh Users’ Forum had been taken over by AdvoCard. (Edinburgh Users’ Forum has now been superseded by Community Voices a similar campaigning group for mental patients in the community.) The Community Voices newsletter out each month itemises mental health events in the Community. It adds support and solidarity to be able to mix with others who are in the same situation as oneself.
“So these three avenues are the ways in which I have sought advocacy at AdvoCard: individual advocacy and by attending collective advocacy groups at The Patients’ Council of The Royal Edinburgh Hospital over the years and for some years the meetings of Edinburgh Users’ Forum. AdvoCard is a facilitator and helps people to have a voice in their own or their relative’s care and treatment. AdvoCard helps people to be more independent and to be in touch with what is taking place in the mental health field and advocacy enables people to have a greater say in their care. I am grateful to AdvoCard for all of the help that has been given to me and would like to see AdvoCard being granted continuity of its role as providing and delivering individual and collective advocacy on into the future.”