Undoubtedly they are and Professor Sir Michael Marmot tells us why in his forward to the March 2013 report from UCL Institute of Health Equity: Working for Health Equity: The Role of Health Professionals, ‘action on the social determinants of health should be a core part of health professionals’ business, as it improves clinical outcomes, and saves money and time in the longer term. But, most persuasively, taking action to reduce health inequalities is a matter of social justice.’
He continues: ‘The medical and health professions are well placed to take action on the social determinants of health – they are trusted, expert, committed, and great powerful advocates.’
Interestingly some health professionals working in the field of cancer have told us that because they advocate on behalf of their patients they cannot see a need for our service. Once we have explained the role of independent peer advocacy they can see how it complements and strengthens the work that they are doing.
Volunteer peer advocates offer their support in the community and can spend time with people in their own home. The volunteer, as a lay person, is on an equal footing with the person they support – they are working in partnership. The volunteer can stay the journey with their partner and accompany them to hospital if needed, during different phases of treatment. The volunteer can provide printed information on treatment and care options and then put the pamphlet aside, discuss the information and revisit the discussion until their partner feels comfortable with it and clear on their options. Above all the volunteer has time, time to listen while their partner works through their feelings and prepares themselves for the next step.
Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Cancer Advocacy