An alliance for older people

The concept of an independent representative advocacy service is important as a key enabler to empower older people in residential care to express their wishes and concerns, writes Anne Harris.

The HSE’s Office of Advocacy Services has established a Forum on Services for Older People that considers a formal advocacy structure to support older people in residential care to be a key priority.

Anne Harris and Mary Culliton
Anne Harris and Mary Culliton

The Forum has established the National Advocacy Programme Alliance comprising a number of key agencies to implement an overall advocacy programme.

The Alliance is developing the following three projects:

  • Provision of an independent website for older people and their families to support them in selecting a nursing home to suit their needs.
  • Provision of an independent representative advocacy service to older people already in residential care.
  • Provision of values training in “Personal Excellence” for the staff.

The principles underpinning the projects are empowerment of the older person, respect for their wishes, protection of rights, acting in the person’s best interest, acting independently, maintaining confidentiality and acting with diligence and competence.

The programme is based on the premise that services for older people should be joined-up, user friendly and customer focussed.  Advocacy has an important role to play in supporting these services to meet the needs of individual clients but particularly those who are vulnerable. The development of this initiative is timely given the introduction of the HIQA Standards for Older People in long term residential care in 2009.

The Forum on Services for Older People was established following meetings between the Office of Advocacy Services and families of relatives who had experienced care problems while resident in the former Leas Cross Nursing Home in north Dublin. Many national and local organisations have participated in the Forum and have been instrumental in bringing the programme to its current stage.

The combined and interrelated projects seek to give a voice to older people residing in or associated with residential care in Ireland. The programme reflects major tangible developments which are being delivered under the National Strategy for Service User Involvement in the Irish Health Services 2008-2013- A National Transformation Project.

Independent website

Older people and their families asked for a system where they could access information about all of the Nursing Homes and Community Units in their area. To address this deficit the Forum devised a website www.myhomefromhome.ie which recently went live and is continually being updated and populated as Nursing Homes join the site. The site is a resource for people wishing to select a nursing home to suit their needs while the Nursing Home Support Scheme will advise on financial support available.

The concept of an independent representative advocacy service is important as a key enabler to empower older people in residential care to express their wishes and concerns

The concept of an independent representative advocacy service is important as a key enabler to empower older people in residential care to express their wishes and concerns. To support this concept volunteer advocates are sought and identified through a rigorous interview and selection process and then complete a fourteen week training programme which is accredited at FETAC Level 6 and delivered by the National College of Ireland. The volunteers are subsequently allocated to units in their locality where they carry out their placement and practical “on-the-job” training under the supervision of an internal link person who is a senior member of staff. There are also links externally with Development Officers and Elder Abuse Officers to resolve arising issues. Currently the programme is underway in a number of pilot sites which have self-selected to participate in the programme. To date 120 volunteers have completed training and are allocated in these units throughout the country and over 1500 older people now have access to the service.

The aim of the personal excellence project is to create a work environment that fosters innovation and change in support of person centred care while focusing upon the dignity, respect, health and safety of each individual older person.

The primary focus of this values-led change centres on the attitudes of staff towards elderly residents in their care. The training programme assists staff to define themselves fundamentally as human beings relating to other human beings and hopes to generate positive movement in living a set of values with care of the older person at the heart of everything they do. The project continues to run parallel to the advocacy service and has been embraced and sponsored by leaders in the homes where it has commenced reaffirming that sense of purpose in their organisations.

There is considerable potential to conduct a cross border initiative in the area of advocacy as there are many people living in homes on both sides of the border and discussions are currently underway to develop this potential.

Evaluation of the pilot programme will take place this year and hopefully with positive results may enable the programme to roll out nationally. Funding was provided by the HSE’s Innovation Fund and also from the Health Services National Partnership Forum however further funding would be required to expand nationally.

The National Advocacy Programme has been fortunate to receive the All Ireland Inspiration Life Award presented by the Irish Times for “an organisation in the private, community or Public Sector which has taken initiative to engage older people in leading active and fulfilled lives”.

For further information please contact;

Anne Harris
Project Manager
The Office of Consumer Affairs, HSE
National Advocacy Programme Alliance
Oak House
Millennium Park
Naas
Co Kildare

Tel 045/988310 or anne.harris1@hse.ie