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Taking action about discrimination in health and care services

This advice applies to Wales

If you’ve experienced discrimination by a health or care provider, there are things you can do. You’ll need to think about what outcome you want and how quickly you need to get a result.

You might want the health or care provider to:

  • stop the discrimination
  • apologise
  • review a decision they’ve already made
  • change their policy
  • train their staff about discrimination
  • pay you compensation - for example, for anxiety or stress caused by the discrimination

It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It might stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. However, there are strict time limits for taking legal action so it's best to act as early as possible.

Check if what you experienced was discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination by public and private health and care services. It only covers personal assistants if you employ them through an agency.

If you want to take action about discrimination, you need to be reasonably sure that discrimination has taken place according to the law. It’s a good idea to try and find more information about your case to make sure you have a strong complaint.

If what happened wasn't discrimination under the Equality Act, there might still be things you can do. For example, you could make a complaint about your treatment.

Check if you’ve experienced discrimination under the Equality Act

Find information to support your complaint

You can ask for information about your treatment from the person you think has discriminated against you. It can help you understand why you were treated in a certain way. If you decide to make a complaint or go to court, you can use this information to support your discrimination claim or complaint.

Check how to get information about your discrimination case.

Make a freedom of information request

You can make a freedom of information (FOI) request to the organisation who discriminated against you if they’re a public authority like an NHS hospital, GP surgery or local council. You can ask the organisation for any information you think they might hold. They might not give you some information may because the law says it shouldn’t be given to the public.

You can check how to make an FOI request on the Information Commissioner’s Office website

Make a complaint

You can make an informal complaint first to the health or care provider. This could be to the person who discriminated against you or the organisation who employs them.

If the problem isn't resolved informally, you can make a formal complaint. You can complain to the health or care provider directly using their complaints procedure. 

When you write your complaint, you should:

  • explain what happened - include any relevant dates and times, and the names of anyone involved

  • say how the discrimination has affected you - for example, if it's made you feel very upset or if you've lost money as a result

  • say what you want to happen as a result of the complaint - for example, an apology, a review of a decision or compensation

  • say when you want a reply

  • include your name and contact details

If you need help making a complaint about the NHS, you can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). Find your nearest PALS service on the NHS website.  

If you can’t resolve your complaint informally, you should try and use alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

Use alternative dispute resolution

ADR is where people on different sides of a dispute try to find a solution to a problem with the help of an independent professional - for example, a mediator, arbitrator or ombudsman. If you want to take legal action, the courts will want to know you considered using ADR first as court action should be a last resort. You might have to pay to use ADR.

You can:

If you’ve experienced discrimination under the Equality Act, you can take legal action. What you can do depends on if you were discriminated against by a public authority.

Public authorities include:

  • NHS health services like hospitals, GPs and dentists

  • social services

  • care homes run or funded by the local council

  • care homes funded by the NHS

  • NHS trusts in England, local health boards in Wales or NHS health boards in Scotland

  • private health organisations providing NHS services

  • the Care Quality Commission in England, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate in Wales and the Care Inspectorate in Scotland

If it was a public authority

You can make a claim against your health or care provider in the civil courts.

There are strict time limits for making a court claim under the Equality Act. You need to make your claim within 6 months less 1 day of the discrimination taking place. 

When you make your case, it’s worth checking if the public authority has broken any other laws. They have to follow:

  • the public sector equality duty 

  • human rights law

  • public law 

You can use the public sector equality duty and human rights law to make your discrimination case stronger.

If the public authority breached public law, you can make a different claim using a special procedure called ‘judicial review’.

Making a public sector equality duty claim

You can use the public sector equality duty to challenge policies you think are discriminatory. If the challenge succeeds, the policy might be changed for everyone in the same situation as you.

Public authorities have a duty to try to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination

  • advance equality of opportunity

  • foster or encourage good relations between people from different groups

This means they must think about how their policies affect people who are protected against discrimination under the Equality Act. They must do this before they adopt the policy.

You can use the equality duty to strengthen your discrimination complaint or court action. 

If there’s a reason why your discrimination claim might not be successful, you could apply for judicial review instead on the grounds that the health or care provider has breached their equality duty.

Using human rights law

If you think a public authority has breached or not respected your human rights, you can say this in your discrimination complaint or court action.

If you’re making a human rights claim, these are the most relevant articles in the Human Rights Act 1998:

  • 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

You can find out more about your human rights.

If there’s a reason why your discrimination claim might not be successful, you could make a human rights claim instead. If you want to make a human rights claim on its own, you need to apply for judicial review.

Applying for judicial review

If a public health or care provider has acted outside of their legal powers or broken human rights law when making a decision that affects you, you can make a public law claim.

If you want to make a public law claim, you’ll need to apply for judicial review.

You can only apply for a judicial review when there are no better ways of challenging a decision. Judicial review applications must be made in the High Court.

There are very strict time limits for making the application. The latest you can apply is within 3 months of the issue you're complaining about - but you should apply as soon as you can.

You can usually only apply for judicial review if you were personally affected by the issue you want to complain about.

Get more help

You can find out more about taking action against a public authority.

If you’re thinking about taking court action, you should talk to an adviser.

 

If it was a private service provider

You can make a claim against your health or care provider in the civil courts.

There are strict time limits for making a court claim under the Equality Act. You need to make your claim within 6 months less 1 day of the discrimination taking place.

You can find out more about taking action against a private service provider.

If you’re thinking about taking court action, you should talk to an adviser.

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