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Direct discrimination in health and care services

This advice applies to Wales

If you’ve been treated differently and worse by a healthcare or care provider because of who you are, this could be direct discrimination.

Direct discrimination is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about direct discrimination when receiving health and care services.

When is it direct discrimination?

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts.

Direct discrimination is when a healthcare or care provider treats you differently and worse than someone else for certain reasons.

These reasons are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics. You can read more about protected characteristics.

Direct discrimination can be because of who you are. It can also be because of who someone thinks you are or because of someone you’re with or know.


You're of Asian origin. You've just found out that your private dentist has charged you more for the same treatment as one of your friends who's white British. You think this is because of you're Asian.

If this is the case, it's direct discrimination. You've been treated differently and worse than your friend because of your race which is a protected characteristic. Direct discrimination is unlawful under the Equality Act and you can take action about it.

Assessing your needs as a patient

A healthcare or care provider may decide not to provide you with a service or offer you a different service after an assessment of your needs as a patient or client. This is not unlawful discrimination. But if the decision is based on your protected characteristic and it doesn’t fall within one of the exceptions under the Equality Act, it’s direct discrimination.

When might it not be direct discrimination?

There are exceptions under the Equality Act where service providers can provide different services based on a protected characteristic.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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