A new report from the Mental Welfare Commission shows that the planning and provision of advocacy services across Scotland is variable and lacks clarity.
There were significant gaps in service provision for children and young people, and services for adults were often prioritised for those who were receiving compulsory care or treatment, which could risk other people losing out.
The report follows a 2015 update to the Mental Health Act, which created new duties for local authorities and health boards to tell the Commission how they have ensured access to advocacy services up to now, and how they plan to do so in the future.
The results show that planning of advocacy services is lacking in many areas, with only five health boards providing current plans. Strategies for monitoring and reviewing services are also variable.
There is a lack of clarity on which organisation (health board or the new health and social care partnership) is responsible for co-ordinating the preparation of strategic advocacy plans, and on how advocacy providers and people using advocacy services will be involved in planning.
There is a lack of clarity on how services are accessible to all children and young people under 18 with mental ill health and/or learning disability.
Kate Fearnley, Executive Director (Engagement and Participation), at the Mental Welfare Commission, said,
"Ensuring that people have access to independent advocacy is really important. An advocate can make sure a person with mental illness, learning disability or dementia has their voice heard, and has their views and wishes considered, when decisions are made about their lives.
"This is our first report on the planning of advocacy services across Scotland since new legislation came into force. We hope that by publishing the data and sharing our results and recommendations, we will see more consistency in the services people can expect, no matter where they live in the country."
Key findings include:
- The majority of services were prioritising referrals for people subject to compulsory measures under legislation. The Commission is clear that limiting advocacy in this way was never the intention of the policy when it was introduced in 2003, and we expect everyone who has the right to access an advocate, gets that support.
- Only three areas told us their advocacy budget had increased in the last two years, and three quarters said budgets had remained static in this period. If this continues, there is likely to be an actual reduction in the service provided.
- In relation to children and young people, a number of the services highlighted to us were not independent advocacy. Some were children's rights officers employed by local authorities. Almost all of the services had very restricted eligibility criteria. The information we gathered suggests that there are significant gaps in service provision for children and young people.