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The Rights of Patients/Services Users, Practitioners, and Society
This week we’ll explore human rights and how they apply to health & social care
Human rights are a set of universal, non- political, binding international standards
They’re usually understood as inherent to all human beings, irrespective of nationality, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or any other status
Human rights are indivisible, interrelated & interdependent
This means that all rights have equal status, & the fulfilment of one right depends – either in part or wholly – on other rights
There are various international human rights treaties. If national governments sign up to them, they commit to a triple duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights
SO if a State signs up to human rights treaties, it must:
Refrain from directly interfering with our rights, and protect us from interference by others
Take pro-active, positive steps to facilitate the enjoyment of the rights of all
Humans have Equal Rights
There are some key things NHS organisations need to know about human rights:
Human rights are about our basic needs as human beings
Human rights belong to everyone, all of the time – not only certain groups or at certain times
They cannot be ‘given’ to us – only claimed or fulfilled
They cannot be taken away from us, only limited or restricted in some circumstances
They are about how public authorities, such as NHS organisations, must treat everyone as human beings.
Human rights are a set of universal minimum standards that must be met. They are not only about the protection of particular individuals and groups in society but are a practical framework to protect the rights of everyone.
These rights are enshrined in International, European and Domestic Law, and a key source is the UK Human Rights Act, 1998 (N.B. it mostly came into force in Oct 2000)
Human rights values such as Fairness, Respect, Equality, Dignity and Autonomy (FREDA) underpin the public service ethos, the NHS Constitution and NHS professional codes of conduct, but things can still sometimes go wrong.
For example, figures from the Office for National Statistics (2010) show that 1,316 deaths in hospitals were linked to, or directly caused by dehydration and malnutrition although hydration and nutrition are essential for sustaining life. If we take seriously the obligation on NHS organisations to respect, protect and promote human rights then we need to look through a human rights lens and see deaths in hospitals caused by dehydration and malnutrition as a human rights issue
– Article 2 of The UK Human Rights Act 1998, The Right to Life.
Is There a Right to Health?
The right to health is internationally recognised as a fundamental human right. In 1946, the WHO stated in its constitution that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
This right was also included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.The UK is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This means the UK is bound, in international law, to protect the right to health.
What is the Right to Health?
The UN Factsheet on the Right to Health states that it’s a ‘progressively realisable’ right & includes basic things like access to healthcare and hospitals, as well as underlying factors necessary for a healthy life, such as safe drinking water and sanitation, food and adequate housing.
The right to health contains the freedom to say no to medical treatment. It entitles people to a system of health protection, including the prevention, treatment and control of diseases and access to essential medicines.
The right to health means that functioning public health care facilities, goods and services must be available and accessible, equally, to all. States must do everything they can, within their available resources, to provide all these things.
What is the Right to Health is not?
The right to health is not a right to be healthy – That would be impossible for a state to achieve, as it cannot completely control its citizens’ biological make-up or socio- economic conditions (although it can influence these).
What have Human Rights Achieved?
Because of human rights:
Elderly and vulnerable patients who were badly mistreated in an NHS hospital were given justice (and some compensation) after a public inquiry found there was a failure of the NHS system at every level;
Patients have the right to determine what is in their best interests;
Medical staff can’t ignore parents’ objections to the treatment of their children;
Hospitals must protect vulnerable patients at risk of suicide;
And, people detained because of their mental health have legally enforceable rights.
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