Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

‘Listen’, ‘partnership’, ‘empower’, ‘share’, ‘recognise’, ‘respect’

These are terms that we are used to seeing in the context of independent advocacy support.  I have in fact picked them out of the revised Code from regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). Although my own background is not in health I was familiar with the previous Code from 2008. Section 4 of that version states ‘You must act as an advocate for those in your care, helping them to access relevant health and social care, information and support’. At Dorset Macmillan Advocacy as part of the training for our volunteer advocates we had discussed how this might make health professionals more open to the support that we can offer but how it might also lead to them seeing it as unnecessary since they already act as advocates for their patients.

The revised Code has widened this aspect considerably and now says: ‘Make sure that people’s physical, social and psychological needs are assessed and responded to. To achieve this, you must: … act in partnership with those receiving care, helping them to access relevant health and social care information and support when they need it, and act as an advocate for the vulnerable, challenging poor practice and discriminatory attitudes and behaviour relating to their care.’ The NMC says that the Code has been written with the input of many patients, carers, nurses and midwives. It is shaped around four statements, which state that good nurses and midwives will:

  • Prioritise people • Practise effectively • Preserve safety, and • Promote professionalism and trust.

Jackie Smith, NMC Chief Executive and Registrar, said on 31st March: “This is a landmark day for every nurse and midwife in the UK, and for the people they care for. The Code is fundamental to protecting the public. It sets out what patients want from nurses and midwives, and puts public expectations at the centre of professional practice.” Macmillan Cancer Support have noted that ‘The changes to the code include new sections that outline professional duty of candour, and the responsibilities of all nurses and midwives to raise concerns. The focus of the revision is to drive continuous improvements in the quality and safety of care.’

I asked one of our own volunteer advocates with a unique perspective, since she is also a practising nurse, whether she felt that the revised Code would make it easier for our peer volunteer advocates to work with health professionals in supporting their advocacy partners. She said “The new Code will bring benefits regarding better communication between health staff and advocates. We now have the professional duty to facilitate communications among everyone that is taking care of a person. The new code has underlined even more the centrality of the patient, which means ‘do the best for them’, and implies cooperation among all their carers.  Another important point that for me from the advocacy perspective is that nurses have to delegate to whomever can do the best for the patient and can complete the task at the required standard, even if they are not a health worker.”

I really recommend reading the revised Code to get an insight into what the NMC has found to be the most important aspects of patient and public expectation. The Code is extremely readable and well-constructed.  We will be referring to it in our volunteer training. Indeed many of the requirements of nurses would be transferable to the role of independent advocate especially those concerning clear communication: ‘use terms that people …can understand, use a range of verbal and non-verbal communication methods…check people’s understanding’.

Most importantly for me the Code recognises for the first time that a patient may be supported by an advocate and mentions the role directly in the third section entitled Preserve Safety. ‘Be open and candid with all service users about all aspects of care and treatment, including when any mistakes or harm have taken place.  To achieve this, you must… explain fully and promptly what has happened, including the likely effects, and apologise to the person affected and, where appropriate, their advocate, family or carers.’ I feel that the revised Code will serve as a strong foundation for effective cooperation between peer volunteer advocates, their advocacy partners – the older people affected by cancer, and the clinicians delivering their treatment and care.

Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

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