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Advocates for health and disability service users: Advocacy service posters and brochures are ...

Citizens' Advice Bureau



Advocates for health and disability services users

Solutions focus
Emotional for both parties

Advocacy service posters and brochures are a familiar sight in most health professional and disability service provider offices around the country.

Each year, thousands of complaints are resolved quickly and fairly by consumer advocates without the need for an investigation by the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC). Thirty-six advocates (mostly part-time) are contracted to work for HDC through three regional organisations: Health Advocacy Trust (HAT, Auckland/Northland), Advocacy Services Network Trust (ADNET, Central/Lower North Island), and Advocacy Services South Island Trust (ASSIT, South Island).

Their results are impressive. Last year advocacy services closed over 3,500 complaint files and 76% of these complaints were resolved with advocacy assistance or by the consumer after advocacy involvement.

Solutions focus

The success of advocacy as a method of complaint resolution is tied in part to advocates’ philosophy of searching for solutions, not problems. An advocate can often equip a consumer to resolve a concern directly with the provider. In other cases, the advocate may provide ongoing representational advocacy for the consumer. Advocates are particularly good at identifying the strengths of the current provider–consumer relationship and supporting consumers to explain how they would like things to work.

Advocates are highly aware that their role requires them to take the consumer’s side in resolving complaints with service providers. Despite this bias, advocates view the provider as an organisation/person whose core purpose is to make people well and who has a deep interest in the welfare of the patient or client, but who from time to time makes a mistake. A climate of openness and interest in achieving a resolution is more likely if the provider is not viewed as the ‘enemy’ to be brought down a notch or two.
Advocates using best practice methods will often be described by both providers and consumers as having:

  • the ability to maintain clear professional boundaries
  • the ability to listen deeply
  • an understanding or empathy, and the ability to maintain objectivity and balance
  • a deep and abiding commitment to achieving a resolution
  • the ability to see and understand what really matters, to get to the heart or essence of an issue
  • a high level of personal integrity
  • personal power or mana.

Emotional for both parties

A key role of the advocate, from both the provider and the consumer perspective, is managing the emotional content of the complaint. This includes:

  • managing the anxiety and stress of the consumer
  • managing the anger and emotion out of the case (prior to meeting)
  • being cognisant of, and managing for, the fear of the staff member.

Acknowledging and managing the emotional content increases the participants’ ability to focus on the facts during a meeting with the provider and thus significantly con-tributes to achieving the desired outcome.

Many providers find it helpful to pre-empt problems by referring an unhappy patient to advocacy services. Brochures in a range of languages are available from HDC, and information in a wider range is on the website.

Find out more!

For more information, visit the Health and Disability Commissioner website or contact your local advocacy service on the following numbers:
Health Advocates Trust 0800 555 050 or (09) 623 5799
Advocacy Services Network Trust 0800 423 638 or (06) 348 0074
Advocacy Services South Island Trust 0800 377 766 or (03) 377 7501




A photo of a small child opening her mouth for the doctor to examine her throat.


Photo shows a senior citizen relaxing in an armchair.

Photo of male worker in a wheelchair at his office work station.