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Advocacy Groups

Volume 407: debated on Friday 20 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he has taken to ensure that there is a national network of advocacy groups to speak on behalf of vulnerable people; and if he will make a statement. [119245]

The Government's long-term aim is to have a range of independent advocacy services available in each area so that people with learning disabilities can choose the one which best meets their needs. The funding schemes being operated by the British Institute of Learning Disabilities and Values Into Action are intended to work towards this. Under these schemes we have already allocated approximately £3 million to advocacy schemes across the country.The Department is funding, to the value of £90,000 over three years, United Kingdom Advocacy Network (UKAN) to promote free and independent advocacy for every mental health service user; to keep user groups and advocacy projects in touch with each other, to promote the involvement of users in planning and running mental health services and to develop standards in independent advocacy, whereby they are establishing programmes of regional training courses for advocates. UKAN also employs a worker to work specifically on advocacy issues affecting black and minority ethnic groups.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what guidance he has (a) issued and (b) plans to issue to (i) social services departments and (ii) others on the most appropriate way of funding advocacy groups; and if he will make a statement; [119246](2) what guidance he has given to primary care trusts and NHS trusts about

(a) the role of advocacy groups and (b) the most appropriate way of funding them. [119247]

In the year 2000, the Government published the 'No Secrets' guidance on developing and implementing multi-agency policies and procedures to protect vulnerable adults from abuse. This guidance, issued to local authorities and others, includes a paragraph (6.32) on the role of advocates, which says:

"In some cases, it will be necessary to appoint an independent advocate to represent the interests of those subject to abuse. In such cases, all agencies should set out how the services of advocates can be accessed, and the role they should take."
The guidance, issued to local authorities and others, in relation to 'Valuing People' in August 2001, says that development of and support for advocacy services are a priority in Valuing People. Learning disability partnership boards should collate information about the strengths and weaknesses of advocacy services in their area and use this material as the basis for making recommendations about projects to be paid for out of the Development Fund and mainstream funds.In addition, the Department funded the publication in 2001 of Deciding Together, which provides advice on how organisations can better involve people with learning disabilities in decision making that affects their lives, including a chapter on independent advocacy.The Adoption and Children Act 2002 places a new duty on councils with social service responsibilities, to arrange advocacy services for looked after children and care leavers who make a complaint under sections 26 and 24D of the Children Act. Draft regulations and guidance will be issued for consultation over the summer.Listening to children underpins the Quality Protects programme and a special grant is available to all councils, to develop independent advocacy services. There has been considerable growth in such services since the start of the programme in 1999.At the request of the Department of Health, Durham University undertook a study of current mental health advocacy services to assist the Department in developing this new specialist advocacy service. Its report contains a number of recommendations for good practice. We will now be working with existing advocacy service providers, people with mental illness and other stakeholders to ensure that we develop an effective advocacy service.No specific guidance has been provided to the National Health Service on advocacy groups. However, as part of the new patient advice and liaison service, available now in most trusts, patients can be sign-posted to local known specialist advocacy groups where they exist. In the area of supporting patients with complaints about NHS services, it is intended to provide an independent complaints advocacy service across the country from 1 September.