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Protecting your human rights when using health and care services

This advice applies to Wales

If you’ve been treated unfairly, it may be unlawful discrimination. If you've experienced unlawful discrimination, you can take action under the Equality Act 2010.

If you've been treated unfairly by a public authority, you may also be able to take action under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Read this page to find out more about using human rights law when you receive health and care services.

What are human rights?

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world. In the UK, these rights are contained in the Human Rights Act 1998. If a public authority breaches or doesn't respect your human rights, you can take action under the Act.

Who must respect your human rights?

Public authorities must make sure they respect and protect your human rights when they provide health and care services. This may involve taking positive steps to ensure your human rights aren't breached. If a public authority has treated you badly, you may be able to use human rights law to make a complaint or take court action.

Public authorities include:

  • social services
  • private care homes funded by a local authority
  • local authority and NHS funded care homes
  • NHS health services like hospitals, GPs and dentists
  • other NHS bodies like NHS trusts in England, Local Health Boards in Wales or NHS Health boards in Scotland
  • private healthcare organisations providing NHS services
  • the Care Quality Commission in England, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate in Wales and the Care Inspectorate in Scotland.

Which human rights are the most relevant when you receive health or care services?

The following rights are the most relevant when you receive health or care services:

  • article 8 - the right to respect for private and family life
  • article 3 - the right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way
  • article 5 - the right to liberty
  • article 2 - the right to life
  • article 14 - the right not to be discriminated against.

Your right to a private and family life

Your right to a private and family life means you should be able to enjoy your family relationships. It also means people should respect your privacy and your life choices, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others.

Article 8 protects you - for example when:

  • you want more privacy in a care home or when you receive care services in you own home
  • you're placed in a care home where it's difficult for you to see your family or friends
  • you’re in a mixed sex hospital ward
  • your family is not allowed to come and visit you in hospital
  • you want to discuss a medical problem in private
  • you’re being handled roughly or are not well cared for by a home care worker.

Your right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment

Article 3 protects you against serious harm and degrading treatment. It could be used - for example if:

  • you’ve suffered serious mistreatment, neglect or very poor care in a hospital or a care home
  • you've been restrained or secluded because of mental health problems or aggressive behaviour
  • you’ve not been helped to eat or drink when you’re too weak to feed yourself.

Your right not to have your liberty taken away from you

Your right to liberty means you shouldn’t be detained or locked up against your will unless it’s allowed by the law - for example, if you’re detained under mental health legislation.

Article 5 protects you - for example when:

  • you’ve been informally detained in a hospital, because you don’t have the capacity to decide if you want to be admitted
  • your detention under mental health legislation has not been reviewed properly or there are delays releasing you from your detention
  • you’ve been restrained for long periods of time - for example, by being tied to a bed or chair.

Your right to life

The right to life means that nobody can try to end your life. It also means that you have the right to be protected if your life is at risk. The NHS or a care provider should consider your right to life when they make decisions that might affect your life expectancy.

Article 2 can be used - for example if:

  • you’ve been refused life saving treatment
  • you’ve have a ‘do not resuscitate order’ placed on your file without your consent
  • someone has died because of serious neglect or mistreatment.

Your right to life doesn’t include a right to ask a medical practitioner to take your life.

Your right not to be discriminated against

The Human Rights Act protects you from discrimination in connection with your human rights under the Act. This means your human rights mustn’t be breached or protected differently because of certain things like sex, disability and race. This protection is wider than that of the Equality Act 2010.

When must public authorities respect your human rights?

Public authorities must respect your human rights when they provide you with health or care services - for example, when you’re in hospital or when social services assess your care needs.

They must also respect your human rights when they commission and plan services - for example, when a local authority contracts with a private organisation to provide care services.

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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