Our work in developing peer advocacy support for older people at any stage of their cancer journey has come about as a result of research by Macmillan Cancer Support into health inequalities. Reducing health inequalities would benefit everyone.
Many GPs, including Dr David Supple in Brighton, are all too aware that ‘the UK remains blighted by a persisting health gap.’
Dr Supple wrote to The Guardian newspaper last week on the topic of opening hours for general practice surgeries. He also laments the ‘decimation of local voluntary sector support agencies.’ ‘Surely’, he asked, ‘the large amount of funding required to increase opening hours nationally should be diverted to well-thought-out local initiatives to reduce the health divide?’
Harnessing the skills and experience of older volunteers to support their peers through the cancer journey, ensuring patients can exercise voice, choice and control and get the most from the treatment and care available to them qualifies as such an initiative in my opinion.
The support our volunteer advocates give ensures that older people need not have a more difficult experience of cancer. People who are uncomfortable with written information can discuss their options face to face in their own time at home, those without the confidence to voice their opinion can develop the confidence or ask their advocate to speak for them, those unsure of their benefit entitlements will be signposted to expert help, those who are anxious will get emotional support, those without transport will get help to find the easiest option for them, those with caring responsibilities will be able to find out about carer support.
When thinking about tackling health inequalities we sometimes focus firstly on public health initiatives and lifestyle campaigns but the work we are doing also contributes to raising life expectancy and increasing the number of years lived in good health and with quality of life.
Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Cancer Advocacy