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Advocacy Overview

1. What is an advocate?

Advocates assist people with making sure their rights are respected. They help consumers to resolve complaints about health or disability services.

They operate independently of government agencies, the Health and Disability Commissioner, and the funders of health and disability services.

Advocates aren't investigators or mediators, nor do they make decisions on whether there has been a breach of the Code - they're there to support you, encourage you to take action (including making a complaint) and to help you resolve your concerns.

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2. What exactly does an advocate do?

An advocate is on the side of consumers. This means the advocate will:

  • listen to your concerns
  • give you information about your rights
  • help you to explore the options available, including ways to make a complaint
  • support you in the actions you decide to take to resolve your concerns
  • give you practical support, such as helping to write a letter or accompanying you to a resolution meeting with the provider
  • give you guidance and information on self-advocacy, if you wish to deal with the matter yourself.
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3. How much does it cost?

Advocacy services are FREE to anyone who has a complaint about a health or disability service.

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4. When should I contact an advocate?

Complaints and enquiries can be made directly to an advocate whenever you need assistance. An advocate can help your complaint to be resolved successfully and quickly, and can also aid in rebuilding damaged relationships.

In particular, advocates are helpful in cases where:

  • you need questions answered about your rights
  • you want the matter dealt with quickly and at an early stage of the problem - this is referred to as resolving the matter at a low or local level
  • you're confused about what's happening with your care, or by what your provider has told you
  • you feel uninformed and not sure what to do or who to talk to
  • you have concerns about the standard of your care, the attitude and manner of your provider, or feel that you have been treated disrespectfully.
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5. What can I expect from a resolution meeting?

A face-to-face resolution meeting with your health or disability provider can be a useful way to explain how the provider's manner, attitude or behaviour has caused distress.

The provider has the opportunity to address this directly at the meeting with an apology, explanation or acknowledgement.

You can also give providers important feedback, so they can improve the quality of their service for future consumers.

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6. What guidelines do advocates have to follow?

Advocates are expected to set a good example, and model a consumer-centred approach.

Advocates have a Code of Practice, Competencies, and Guidelines that describe their role and what consumers can expect from their service.

Advocates' practice is evaluated on a regular basis.

Any complaints about an advocate or the advocacy service are reviewed to see where service improvements can be made.

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7. What contact do advocates have with the Health and Disability Commissioner?

Complaints made to an advocate that remain totally or partially unresolved, and are not withdrawn, are referred to the Health and Disability Commissioner.

The Commissioner is also able to refer complaints that he has received to an advocate, to resolve the matter. If the Commissioner makes a referral to the Advocacy Service, all parties are notified and the process is explained, including the time frame for action expected by the Commissioner. The advocate is required to report back formally to the Commissioner on the outcome.

Advocates may also report to the Commissioner from time to time on any matter concerning the rights and safety of consumers that they consider should be brought to the Commissioner's attention. In this way, advocates perform an important function of being the Commissioner's "eyes and ears" in the community.

Although advocates are on the side of the consumer, the Commissioner is required to be impartial and does not take sides.

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8. Why are complaints an important way to improve services?

Every complaint is an opportunity for learning and quality improvement. Most providers find it helpful to know about a consumer's concern so that they can take action to sort it out, and improve the quality of their service for the future.

Sometimes this leads to changes in practice, which will benefit other consumers.

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9. How can I learn more?

In addition to assisting consumers to resolve their complaints, advocates have a key educational and networking role.

They provide education sessions and training workshops for consumers and providers to promote awareness and understanding of the rights of consumers and the responsibilities of providers - as outlined in the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights.

Contact the advocacy service or your local advocate to arrange a general education session, a self-advocacy training programme, or a workshop on a particular rights area.

You can either contact the advocate in your area directly or call the freephone advocacy contact number:  0800 555 050

Networking within local communities allows advocates to understand local issues and assist consumers to take action.

Networking is also an effective way for advocates to keep up to date with local support services so they are able to provide practical information when consumers make enquiries about how to deal with situations.

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