A day in the life
Diane Neville-Beck, Advocate at York Advocacy Hub
After Diane Neville-Beck was made redundant from her role as an occupational therapist, she wanted a new challenge while still supporting people to support themselves. She now works with York Mind’s advocacy service (which you can read about on p20), helping clients with everything from NHS complaints to worries about housing.
I arrive at the office by bike, make a cup of tea and check who I need to speak to and see today.
I used to work as an occupational therapist in a neurological rehabilitation unit, and I was often frustrated by the lack of acknowledgement of people’s mental health and wellbeing.
When I was made redundant from that role, it forced me to make a choice. I found myself thinking: who do I want to work with and what do I want to do? For me the biggest thing about being an occupational therapist was supporting people to do what they wanted to do. That’s exactly what I now do as an advocate.
The whole point of advocacy is that it’s about what the client wants to say. I don’t give advice. I don’t guide them. I help people to represent and support themselves.
It can be really hard, because often people want you to step in and tell them what to do. At other times I might think that what people want to do isn’t the best option. But I try to be very aware of myself. The more aware you are of your own thoughts, ideas and body language, the more you can put all those things to one side. I try to remain as objective as possible.
I cycle to meet a client I’m accompanying to a local resolution meeting at an NHS hospital. This lady came to us for support to make a complaint about the NHS, which is one of the types of advocacy we offer. We also run a generic advocacy service, which can involve anything – issues with GPs, housing, education – and a Care Act advocacy service. They are all run through York Mind, but don’t have a specific mental health focus.
This lady has complained about the treatment her husband received in hospital. He wasn’t able to communicate for himself, and she wanted to be more involved with his care, particularly at mealtimes as he had trouble feeding himself. He was then discharged without the proper checks being done, and he sadly died afterwards.
We have previously written a letter of complaint together, but it can often be helpful for people to meet with hospital staff. Understandably, this lady still feels upset and angry, even though the complaint has been upheld. These meetings can go some way to helping with that emotional struggle.
We meet beforehand to discuss how she would like to approach the meeting, and she asks me to speak first. The investigator does a good job of directing questions at my client though, and once she’s been given the space to talk, she opens up. I’m always looking for cues about when clients want to talk. The sooner I can get people talking for themselves, the better.
The investigator apologises for the distress that has been caused. The hospital has also changed its policy on the way people are discharged, which does feel like important progress.
I cycle back to the office and add the notes about this morning’s meeting to our database, before having lunch with colleagues. We often support each other with the stresses of the job; I really value that.
I take a call from our local council about a client I’ve previously worked with under our Care Act advocacy. They want to review this person’s transport provision, and ask if I think it would be helpful to have an independent advocate involved in the review.
I say yes. My concern is that any change to this person’s transport provision could have a significant impact on the activities he is able to do. He has a severe learning disability, and also had a stroke recently.
So I ask the council to refer the case to us and tell the person who allocates work in our office that I’d like to take that case. With people who struggle to communicate, having that continuity can make a big difference.
I meet a client who has referred herself to us via our generic advocacy service. She has high levels of anxiety involving her accommodation and wants to have her housing reviewed.
As it’s our first meeting, we have various paperwork to go through. I explain that I’m not here as a social worker or a crisis service, but to help her express her point of view.
Once that’s done, she launches into her story. It’s important to give people time to talk and explain their situation. She wants to move into supported living, so we talk through what options are available. Her preference is to contact the housing registration department, so we agree to start there.
As the day draws to a close, I follow up some messages that have come in, and run through my to do list for tomorrow.
Overall, I love being an advocate. My focus now is very much on helping my clients, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. People have said to me, ‘I really appreciate your input. I couldn’t have done this without you’. That means a lot.
Looking back, I’m so glad I was made redundant! I wouldn’t ever have had this opportunity or even have looked for this role if that hadn’t have been the case.
BSc Occupational Therapy
City and Guilds Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy unit (in progress)