Healthwatch: Using human rights to change services Ben Pearson shares his thoughts on using human rights as Project Manager at Healthwatch Blackburn with Darwen Healthwatch gives people a powerful voice locally and nationally. At a local level, Healthwatch Blackburn with Darwen (BwD) helps people get the best out of their local health and social care services. Whether it's improving them today, or helping to shape them for tomorrow, Healthwatch BwD is all about local voices being able to influence the delivery and design of local services. I started work with Healthwatch BwD a month or two after the Care and Support: A Human Rights Approach to Advocacy project commenced. It was great to be involved, first as the project’s deputy lead and later as Human Rights Lead for Healthwatch BwD. Working with British Institute of Human Rights over the last three years has allowed staff, volunteers and local residents to gain a greater understanding of how human rights are relevant to us all in our everyday life, especially when accessing health and care services. We have been able to use what we have learned as an organisation to influence on behalf of local residents to ensure services are respecting an individual’s human rights. We also believe equipping those we empower and raising awareness allows more people to be aware of what their rights are and when they might be challenged. The resources which we were involved in designing with other partners have proved a huge success, giving staff something tangible they can grab to pay reference to while also being accessible for the wider community. It was great to have the opportunity for the resource to be launched in Blackburn and the event was really well attended. Challenges The project hasn’t been without its challenges, with time and resources often tight and with priorities from elsewhere, embedding and understanding human rights wasn’t always easy. BIHR have been supportive throughout, answering questions that were never ‘silly’ and applying human rights to lots of real life situations so staff gained greater understanding. It’s been a pleasurable journey and I now see human rights embedded within our organisation, certainly for myself in both my professional and personal life. Embedding human rights We are now in the process of embedding human rights into all of our Enter and View visits which, alongside NICE guidelines, will give our reports even greater impact and influence, changing services now and into the future (and hopefully in the process raising the awareness and importance of human rights even more!). We also hope our Amplify Champions (Healthwatch Blackburn with Darwen’s Young Persons Project) will deliver workshops in schools and youth settings to raise awareness and gather experiences from other young people. One of the highlights of the project was delivering a workshop to a group of young people aged 14-18. Both myself and BIHR staff were surprised at both the knowledge and passion for the subject. It’s good to know the next generation are every bit as passionate about their human rights as those of us who have worked on the project; that excites me! It’s been great meeting other professionals from around the country who are just as dedicated in their work and the human rights approach, hearing how the project has been going for them and sharing ideas has been really useful. Helen and the team at BIHR have been so supportive and all round lovely, we will miss your trips to Blackburn as I’m sure you will in equal measure! My take on human rights Working with some of the most vulnerable and seldom heard individuals, it’s good to know human rights are here for us all. Sadly sometimes human rights receive bad press but we need to keep raising the profile of just how important they are and how relevant they could be to those using health and care services. Here’s to human rights.