It is more than three years since the National Service Framework
for Older People introduced a set of expectations for older
people’s services in England. Chief officers of health and social
services are responsible for implementing the framework, but a new
role of older people’s champion has emerged which has
responsibility for the framework’s local implementation. Each local
authority has, in theory, two champions (see below).
A recent study looked at 16 local authority-based older people’s
champions.1 Three main themes were evident.
1: Uncertainty about what being a champion meant.
While some saw it as part of their job anyway, none of the
champions had been provided with clear guidance or details of their
roles. Some had gleaned information from the Department of Health
website or had adapted NHS material. None had received any
This uncertainty made it difficult for champions to focus on one
area. With hindsight, most would have wished for greater support
and a sharper idea of what the role entailed. One champion advised
any successor to “be clear about what is expected, be clear about
how you can contribute, and identify specific items to focus on”.
This uncertainty was not confined to local authority champions –
NHS champions also voiced this uncertainty at times.
2: Potential of champions. Although some champions
felt they did not have enough time to carry out the role
adequately, others could see positive outcomes, including greater
consultation with older people, better motivation of staff and
councillors and the power to defend services. Some said a
champion’s role seemed to help in the implementation of the
framework at local level, such as including older people in
By contrast, champions within the NHS had a sharper focus on the
framework and were more likely to talk about changing practice.
Many of the health champions retained some clinical interests –
generally not the case with local authority champions working in
3: Links with other champions. If nothing else,
champions have made important bridges across agencies at local
level. Most of the local authority-based champions held regular
meetings with counterparts from neighbouring authorities. In some
areas groups of local authority champions meet with their
counterparts in the NHS.
Local authority champions found their experience of working with
the voluntary sector relevant to their role. This included contact
with older people’s organisations and the sector as a whole.
Listening to older people was a key part of being a champion. This
demands good communication skills and a broad appreciation of the
range of older people and their differences.
If champions are to be relevant and effective, three things need to
happen. First, local authority champions need greater clarity of
role, which should be developed and agreed locally. Second, they
need to be able to dedicate time and space to the role, rather than
having it added on to a stack of existing responsibilities. Third,
if it is to be meaningful, champions value contact with each other
and this, too, places demands on busy agendas.
Who are the champions?
Local authority champions include one councillor and one
practice development champion. Similar roles were created within
NHS trusts and include a non-executive director, a clinical
champion and a patient forum representative. Appointment, period of
office and job descriptions are a matter for local determination
(See Department of Health, Meeting the Milestones,
Jill Manthorpe is professor of social care at the social
care workforce research unit, King’s College London.