Learning disability residential care home provider Castlebeck has appointed 2 organisations to provide independent advocacy services to its residents.

Dundee Independent Advocacy Support (DIAS) will support service users living in Scotland while those in the northeast and Midlands will be represented by VoiceAbility. This move follows on from the recent Panorama programme that exposed alleged abuse at one of Castlebeck’s homes, Winterbourne View in Bristol.

At the time, Castlebeck’s chief executive, Lee Reed, pledged to ensure access to independent advocacy to every service user. A full tendering process then began to appoint independent advocacy across the company’s hospitals and care homes. VoiceAbility and DIAS will work across all Castlebeck services to ensure people have their voices heard, and are empowered and involved in their care and treatment.

The initial contract is for 3 years. Advocates will be making unannounced visits as well as holding frequent planned individual sessions. Reed said: “As soon as we were made aware of the terrible findings of the undercover filming, we were determined to ensure patient interests and safety were at the highest level possible throughout the organisation.  Independent advocates – people who visit services to communicate with and for service users to establish their views and work with them – are an important part of the solution. “While some services did have advocacy, the appointment of these two independent organisations to provide a company-wide advocacy service ensures that all those in our care will have access to an independent advocate to speak on their behalf.” 

VoiceAbility’s chief executive Jonathan Senker added: “After my immediate deep sadness on seeing on the BBC the dreadful abuse of people at Winterbourne View, I felt more determined than ever that there must be support for all potentially vulnerable people who use health and social care services to have their voices heard. “Winterbourne View should serve as a wake-up call to all responsible for social and health care. It is essential that people who use these services have a voice that's heard. That is what good quality independent advocacy can achieve. It is amongst the most powerful ways of reducing the risks of abuse and helps people to understand their rights and take control of their lives. It also provides some reassurance for the families and friends of people in residential care settings, as well as the professionals with responsibility for commissioning and providing these services. “So I’m delighted to have this opportunity to work with men and women using Castlebeck's services to help make sure that their views are at the heart of decisions affecting them and that their rights are respected.”

Meanwhile, Damian Sherwood, manager of DIAS said that independent advocacy plays a vital part in having the voice of the individual not only heard, but listened to. “DIAS will support service users to have their views and wishes expressed robustly and promote their dignity and self-worth.  This is an exciting development which will provide positive benefits for the service users and may help to promote fresh thinking in the provision of independent advocacy.”