Andrew Kennedy – Communications Officer, Patient Advocacy Service (PAS)

The Patient Advocacy Service (PAS) was launched in November 2019 by then Minister for Health Simon Harris, just a few months before the Covid -19 pandemic began.

The independent, free and confidential service, commissioned by the National Patient Safety Office in the Department of Health, provides information and support to people in Ireland who wish to make a complaint about the care they have received in a HSE-funded public acute hospital, through the HSE’s complaint process ‘Your Service, Your Say’.

Provided by the National Advocacy Service (NAS), the service was set up following a recommendation in the Health Information and Quality Authority’s (HIQA) 2015 report into the Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise and the Ombudsman’s 2015 report ‘Learning to get Better’.

It was this empowerment advocacy that was highlighted at the November launch event, held in the beautiful surroundings of Dublin Castle, where Minister Harris stressed that patient safety is the cornerstone of Ireland’s health care system.

Welcoming the introduction of the service, the Minister said: “I am confident [PAS] will offer a responsive, compassionate and supportive service to people when they are unhappy with their care.”

This certainly proved to be the case. In the months that followed, awareness of our service grew substantially, and we provided advocacy support to many people across Ireland’s regions.

We promoted our service to hospitals, the advocacy and community sector, health and public bodies and our own network, gradually building understanding and engagement.

However, like many other organisations and industries across Ireland, in March this year our service was impacted significantly by the emergence of the Covid-19 crisis.

A quick response was required, and the whole of the PAS team were agile in reacting rapidly to the lockdown situation, while ensuring that our service continued as normal, without any interruption. Overnight we moved from working in a Dublin city centre office to working from home.

This swift move was supported by the effective infrastructure of our ICT system, which made it straightforward for us to support the change without any drop-in service.

From a management perspective, PAS adapted its approach to peer support and learning by ensuring advocates communicated with each other. Team meetings, professional development and one-to-one peer support continued through online video calls.

As a newly established service, a key part of our initial work was the promotion of the service amongst stakeholders, but overnight this ceased as a result of the lockdown.

Face-to-face meetings were no longer possible, so we accelerated our use of social media as a means of promoting the service, engaging directly with stakeholders and people who might benefit from our support.

We moved our service online and we contacted hospitals, TDs and Senators to let them know we were still operating. We also distributed promotional materials and offered online presentations and webinars.

As a result of our quick and efficient response, our service adapted effectively to the change in circumstances and our national phone line remained open throughout the lockdown, providing invaluable support to those who required it.

Over the course of the past few months, our advocates have received many calls from patients who have explained that their hospital appointments have been delayed or moved due to the inevitable pressure placed on medical care by the pandemic.

We have also been contacted by family members who lost loved ones and explained that it was so difficult to get information about their care, particularly in light of access restrictions.

We continue to record all Covid-19 related incidents that come into our service, with the aim of relaying this information to the HSE and Department of Health in due course as a means of contributing to systematic change.

As well as offering a useful resource for patients to voice their frustrations, we have provided information on how to navigate the HSE complaints system or contact a hospital if an urgent service is required. We have also given reassurance and guidance to people who have already made a complaint to the HSE but have been advised that their complaint has been delayed.

For example, we received a call from a lady who was making a complaint relating to her husband’s death in hospital. She was self-isolating and spoke to one of our advocates on a weekly basis about the care that her husband received and how to progress the complaint in relation to her husband’s care. She explained that our calls gave her week some structure and she was grateful for the guidance and information we provided on the process.

One person supported by our advocates told us: “I really appreciate the advice and research information you have given me”, while another caller said simply having “someone to listen” to them had been a big support.

Looking to the months ahead, it is uncertain how the Covid-19 situation will develop, but the Patient Advocacy Service will continue to adapt to any changes and will provide the highest level of service to people in Ireland.

The Patient Advocacy Service is open Monday to Friday, from 10am until 4pm, including lunch time. Call 0818 293003 to speak with an advocate or email [email protected]

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