Wales Sets the Standard

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Byline: By Madeleine Brindley Western Mail

Improving the lives of older people is one of the key aims of the Welsh Assembly Government. Last week a big step forward was taken in turning this commitment into action, when the Assembly approved the regulations which will allow us to appoint a commissioner to champion the interests of older people in Wales.

The appointment, which will be made later this year, will not only benefit older people in Wales but also sets a standard for other parts of the UK, Europe and the world to follow.

We now need to proceed to appoint the right person to the job. This is a groundbreaking and high-profile post. Key to the selection process which the Assembly Government intends to use will be the direct involvement of older people at every stage.

This has been a hallmark of our approach throughout, and has been vindicated at every stage by the contributions which individuals and organisations have made to this groundbreaking initiative.

The appointment process will begin after the Assembly elections in May and is expected to be completed by October.

Once in post, the commissioner will be an integral part of the work already well underway through the Assembly Government's 10-year strategy and action plan to deal with things that matter most in the lives of older people in Wales.

We have worked with older people, local authorities and the voluntary sector in taking this forward.

Older people are not a homogenous group - they are individuals with a wide range of needs and wants. The commissioner, as an ambassador and authority on older people's issues, will need to ensure the interests of all older people are fully integrated into the mainstream policies of the Assembly Government, and of all public bodies in Wales.

In carrying out his or her duties, the commissioner will be able to draw on the powers through Assembly's regulations, and primary legislation passed by Westminster last summer.

Together they will underpin the new role, ensuring it can act effectively in improving the quality of life for all older people in Wales.

The commissioner's main task will be to help to ensure that all older people are treated with dignity and respect, and as individuals whose huge contribution to society is properly valued.

She or he will be able to hold to account public bodies in Wales to ensure they carry out their work in accordance with the best interests of older people.

The commissioner will be able to:

Act as a source of information, advocacy and support for older people;

Encourage best practice in their treatment;

Publish reports and make recommendations;

Issue guidance;

Examine individual cases where wider issues of principle are involved;

Assist an older person to make a complaint or to take a case to court, for example.

Wales' older people's champion will also be able to review the effect on older people of the way certain public bodies carry out their functions.

These bodies will include the Assembly Government, local authorities, fire and rescue authorities, local health boards, NHS trusts, and further and higher education corporations.

She or he will be able to check that appropriate arrangements are in place for providing older people with advocacy services and the opportunity to make complaints, as well as ensuring that whistle-blowers can draw attention to legitimate concerns about the way that older people are being treated. …