Due to the continuing protests going on in America, the UK, and other countries across the world, because of the never-ending acts of police brutality and institutional racism towards the black community, I thought I’d write an article about human rights in relation to healthcare. Because there too, you can be discriminated against, and in some cases, this has also led to someone dying.
“The right to the highest attainable standard of health” implies a clear set of legal obligations on states to ensure appropriate conditions for the enjoyment of health for all people without discrimination.
This can be and is interpreted to mean that people have a human right to healthcare. As such, many countries have taken these human rights and applied them to their own laws, constitutions, and healthcare practices.
Human Rights Approach To Healthcare
The human rights approach to healthcare is designed to tackle all forms of discrimination, not just those of the nine protected groups: Age, Race, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Marriage and Civil Partnership, Pregnancy and Maternity, Sex, Religion and Beliefs, and Sexual Orientation (NHS).
Human rights are the basic rights that we are all entitled to as human beings. These are our core rights to live a life of dignity and respect, which makes up the minimum that needs to be met. The Department of Health identified five key areas for applying human rights laws to healthcare:
Making human rights principles and standards the heart of policy and planning.
Empowering patients and staff with information, knowledge, skills and organisational leadership and commitment to achieve a human rights-based approach.
Enabling meaningful involvement and participation of all key stakeholders.
Ensuring clear and transparent accountability throughout the organisation.
To tackle discrimination and to pay attention to vulnerable groups.
Human Rights: The FREDA Principles
The five key areas identified by The Department of Health led to the creation of the FREDA principles (fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy), which are there to guide how the NHS and other public bodies should treat people.
This principle demands that due consideration is afforded to the person’s opinion, giving them the opportunity to have that point of view expressed, listened to and weighed, alongside other factors relevant to the decision to be taken.
This comes into play when talking about treatments decision or talking about medical conditions but is also a factor in when, and if, you can be held under the Mental Health Act (1983) and Mental Capacity Act (2005).
Respect is the objective, unbiased consideration and regard for the rights, values, beliefs, and property of other people. Respect applies to the person as well as their value systems and implies that these are fully considered before decisions that may overrule them are taken.
In short, this means your privacy has to be respected and protected, as well as protecting patients from decisions, like what treatment to take, and factoring in the patient’s beliefs to avoid violating them.
Many facets behind the principle of equality, including non-discrimination, overlap with respect. The NHS itself was founded on the principles of equality of access and equality of treatment.
However, just because they were founded on these principles, doesn’t mean they’re being adhered to as they should be. For some reason, health professionals have a belief that black and white people are biologically different and thus need different pain management and treatments. This unsupported view is killing black people (Hoffman, Trawalter, Axt, and Oliver, 2016).
Dignity has been defined as a state, quality, or manner worthy of esteem or respect; and (by extension) self-respect. Dignity in care, therefore, means the kind of care, in any setting, which supports and promotes, and does not undermine, a person’s self-respect regardless of any differences.
In an NHS setting, this would also refer to having safe environments, being protected from abuse, helping you to the toilet if needed, keeping you clean, respecting privacy, etc.
Autonomy is regarded as one of the four fundamental ethical principles of healthcare. It is the principle of self-determination whereby a person is allowed to make free choices about what happens to them – that is, the freedom to act and the freedom to decide, based on clear, sufficient and relevant information and opportunities, to participate in the decision-making.
This is the ideal, but unfortunately isn’t always the case, at least not in my experience. When it comes to mental health, there’s sometimes only one option that’s going to be made available to you, and you can either accept it or go without treatment. Your input in treatment decision-making makes no difference, even though personalised patient care is taught in the NHS as best practice (NHS).
The NICE creates guidelines based on evidence-based recommendations developed by independent committees (including professionals and lay members) and consulted on by stakeholders.
NICE has guidelines that cover pretty much everything, and when I made a complaint about my Mental Health Trust a few years ago, I looked up relevant NICE guidelines to sure up my complaint. Thus, the following are some of the relevant NICE guidelines I found, which you also might find useful to know.
The following important areas of this guideline could be useful for getting your needs met as a client. There are a lot of important points in the guideline, but these two, I feel at least, are the most important to remember.
1.1 Knowing the patient as an individual. This part of the guidelines states how the patient should be seen and treated as an individual. When dealing with a patient, they should seek to know how the patient’s conditions and their experience of living with these conditions, affect them as an individual.
1.3 Tailoring healthcare services for each patient. Patients are individuals and should be treated as such. Thus, when seeking treatment from the NHS, services should be tailored to meet the needs, preferences, and values of the patient. This should also be extended to treatments, care, risks, and benefits, as individualised as much as possible. This also includes the option to have a second opinion.
NICE (2016) – Multimorbidity: clinical assessment and management
This guideline is important for those who have more than two or more conditions affecting their quality of life, which was important for me due to how my heart condition and my anxiety disorders would cause a negative feedback loop.
1.1 General principles. Multimorbidity refers to the presence of 2+ long-term health conditions, which can be any physical health, mental health, impairment, or learning disability.
The guidelines reinforce what the previous guidelines (NICE, 2012) said about individualised treatment, but restate it to make sure those with multiple issues aren’t being overlooked.
Thus, if a patient requests that their care should factor in their multimorbidity of health issues, then that request should be honoured. It should also be pursued if the person has difficulties managing day-to-day activities, receive care and support from multiple services, they have both long-term mental and physical health conditions, they’re frail, they have regular unplanned/emergency care, and they’re prescribed multiple medications.
This is a must for multiple medications because it’ll help avoid unpleasant interactions (Medication Interactions: Reporting Medication). It’s also important because the patient might have a preference for which order they’d like their issues addressed, as well as making sure there are no clashes between treatment options.
Human Rights In Healthcare – USA
To be honest, I didn’t know where to start with how human rights laws would have been applied to healthcare in America. When US citizens are dying because they can’t afford treatments or medication, it would appear like healthcare isn’t a human right in America, so how could they apply those principles to healthcare. However, I would love to be wrong about this, and if anyone is willing to educate me and my readers, please do so in the comment section below.
Human Rights In Healthcare – Globally
To those from other countries, look into your healthcare rights, because knowing them will help you get the support you need, or at the very least, help you compile a complaint to get the support you need. Again, if anyone from another country would like to share their knowledge about how their country tries to improve healthcare for their citizens through the application of human rights, please let us know in the comments section below. You never know who this might help.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences where you were let down by your healthcare providers or where you had to deal with making complaints in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
If you’ve had issues with getting the treatment you needed or have been treated poorly by staff at the NHS, then you can get help from several advocacy bodies to help you make a complaint.
However, your first port of call would be to contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS team) who can offer confidential advice and support, which can help with resolving a lot of issues. If you still need to make a complaint, then you can try contacting:
NHS – How to make a complaint
Citizens Advice – List of advocacy groups