Change that leads to better lives

How advocate Toby uses human rights in his work

Toby has been an independent advocate since 2018 and currently works with Voiceability.

Toby guest blog 01

A fundamental part of my reason for becoming an independent advocate was because of my partner’s poor experience as a patient in hospital in 2015 and 2016. Her rights were not upheld, and as she was in hospital for mental health treatment voluntarily, she had no legal right to advocacy.

During that time, I acted as a lay advocate for her and tried to ensure things were done properly. I was shadowing an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA) as part of my final undergraduate placement at the same time, which helped me to understand how advocacy could be used.

Advocacy and people’s rights are linked together at a deep level.

The advocacy frameworks I work within are all based on legislation which sets out a person’s rights. Those rights might come from the Mental Health Act 1983 (2007), such as your right to appeal a section (being detained in hospital) and your right to planned leave from hospital to help prepare you to be discharged. They might come from the Care Act 2014, such as your right to a have a care needs assessment carried out in your own language with the help of an interpreter. Legislation like these give us all rights, and advocates support people to know their rights and have them upheld.

When I introduce myself and explain that I’m an independent advocate, I often say this:

“My role is to support you to understand your rights, make sure you have a voice around processes you are involved with and empower you to speak up for yourself in future situations”.

Most of the time, I can do this effectively and get positive outcomes for the people I support.

Unfortunately, it‘s not always possible. We all have rights by law – but sometimes the law could go further. One group who I feel need more rights urgently are people who are informal or voluntary patients, who are in hospital for their mental health by choice, not because they have been sectioned. At the moment, like my partner in 2015 and 2016, informal patients don’t have a legal right to advocacy under the Mental Health Act. It is important that informal patients are given more legal rights as the government finalises its Draft Mental Health Bill in the coming months. VoiceAbility, together with others, has been calling on the government to extend the right to advocacy to informal patients and to also make it an opt-out service so everyone is automatically referred for an advocate and can then decide if they want support or not. My hope is that if this does happen, the link between advocacy and rights will be strengthened further, and more people will be empowered to speak up in situations where previously they felt disempowered.

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