Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

National Voices review of Peer Support: why we would add Peer Advocacy to the review

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In May Nesta and National Voices launched their Review paper Peer Support: What Is It and Does It Work?  – in this post Ang Broadbridge, our National Development Officer supporting our Cancer Voices and Sanofi projects, talks about the review, and why we think peer advocacy should be included in future peer support reviews.

They reviewed more than 1,000 studies and found evidence that peer support can help people feel more knowledgeable, confident and happy, and less isolated and alone.  The review also showed that there is a limited understanding of the different forms of peer support and how best to deliver support and the forms of training and infrastructure to get the most impact from it.

Peer advocacy as an effective model for peer support for patients

Existing evidence examined by the review showed that peer support is worth investing in as a way of tackling long-term health conditions but knowledge on the service could be strengthened by commissioning more robust and detailed evaluations of the impacts and reasons why peer support works better in some contexts and for some groups.  As our blog readers will know the OPAAL COPA project is all about Voice, Choice and Control and our programme is about peer advocates, themselves older people who have been affected by cancer putting that into practice for other older people affected by cancer – we wholeheartedly agree with the review that peer support is well worth investing in!

The review gave a strong overview of the evidence in favour of peer support and its effectiveness, but we found that the review omitted to explore peer advocacy as one such type of peer support; as National Voices called for wider evidence in their report this blog post presents some of the evidence OPAAL has been collecting to demonstrate the value of peer advocacy.

Every step of the way

Peer advocates walk side by side, ‘every step of the way’ providing whatever support the older person needs. They aim to be the ‘voice’ of the older person, are non-judgmental and make sure those they support are heard and their views and opinions are acted upon. We aim to raise awareness of peer advocacy amongst our health professional colleagues so that they can appreciate how this type of support complements the work of nurses, doctors and all those involved in the care of older people affected by cancer.


The effectiveness of peer advocacy support is demonstrated in our book Every Step of the Way. Our peer advocates, when asked about their experiences of volunteering said:

“I was struck by just how many people out there are alone”

“It’s always interesting, sometimes challenging, always rewarding, work with lovely people, never pressured, always supported.”

“I enjoy making a big difference to my advocacy partners, they tell me I do this and I can see a real change in them.”

The impact of their support is clear:

“I have had a big operation and I am alone. I didn’t think I was being listened to. Richard came along and helped me through it all and I will always be very grateful for that”

“We spent time listening to Elaine to understand the nature of her anxieties. On some occasions having someone to listen seemed to alleviate her worries. She said on several occasions ‘I feel that I can trust you’ (meaning the service as a whole). ‘When you say you are going to be there I know you will be.’ This was in contrast to how she felt let down by other services. We trod a fine line, trying to help her maintain her independence by using hospital transport and sometimes providing transport when it was really needed. She appreciated this and said ‘Thank you for being so human”

In developing the strands of our COPA and Cancer Voices work and looking at how we support our project partners to evaluate their practice the National Voices / Nesta report suggests some key gaps in the knowledge base:

ParticipationWhat type of support do

These are great prompts that will usefully inform our own evaluations and reviews – it’s clear from this Review that peer support hugely benefits vulnerable people and we are looking forward to producing more materials and resources to evidence what we already know from the work we’ve done, that peer advocacy works.


Author: kathparson

Chief Executive of Older People's Advocacy Alliance (UK)

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