"Safety alert on 1,300 'failing' nursing homes" – this was the story on the front page of the Guardian today, after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that one in three nursing homes in England failed official inspections.

The CQC’s report into the state of adult social care services from 2014 to 2017 raises real concerns that people’s human rights are not being met in nursing homes. The CQC found medicines not being administered safely, alarm calls not answered, and residents not being supported to eat or use the toilet.

For people living in nursing homes and relying on others to care for them, these can be some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. And so, it is more important than ever that the most basic human rights are met.

Through the Human Rights Act, there is a legal requirement for people’s human rights to be respected and protected in social care. Human rights include protection from abuse, neglect and discrimination.

In Scotland too, Chief Executive of Scottish Care, Donald Macaskill, warned that “we have massively failed the majority of users of social care” and breached the rights of older people, particularly the right to private and family life protected by Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.

Dignified, compassionate and high-quality care

In the report, the CQC recognises human rights as one of the key “characteristics that have led to high quality care” (p. 24). At BIHR we’ve been working with the CQC staff to support inspectors in implementing their human rights approach to regulation.

BIHR’s work shows how putting human rights at the heart of health and social care ensures dignified, compassionate and high-quality care. When services are supported to understand the Human Rights Act, human rights help managers and staff to make better decisions and deliver better care. This is why we’ve produced practical resources for practitioners, including for nurses, those working in end of life care, and for those working in mental health and mental capacity.

The Human Rights Act also makes sure there is accountability if things do go wrong. When people know about their rights and can use them, they are empowered to get a better service or decision, which is why we have produced practical resources for advocates and people using mental health and mental capacity services, and for carers.

Human rights are practical, necessary and can change lives for the better. Over the fifteen years we have been working on human rights & social care, we have many examples of how human rights make a difference to people’s lives, including:  

For Elsie, an older woman living in a care home, human rights meant that she was protected from abuse.

For Barbara and Jerry, an older couple, human rights meant that they received the support they needed to continue to live in their own home – and for their daughter, Susan, human rights meant that she got the support she needed as their carer.

For Erin, a woman with dementia, human rights meant that she maintained her relationship with her partner, Patrick, whilst living in a care home.

The importance of regulation

The Human Rights Act means regulators, including the CQC, have duties to ensure their actions respect and protect people’s rights. At BIHR we have welcomed the CQC’s recognition of the important role of human rights in regulating health and social care services. CQC staff tell us how beneficial the human rights framework is to their work, helping to identify poor practice and also celebrating great care.

As Stephanie, a CQC inspector told us: I feel more confident in challenging poor practice and using human rights more to support the judgements I make

For providers of services, human rights can be also be the helping hand that supports our public services to deliver great quality care. But in order to do this organisations must be clear about their commitment to human rights at the top, and empower staff across the organisation to put human rights at the heart of their practice:

As an NHS practitioner told us: A human rights based approach has given us a process by which to make decisions in messy and difficult situations. Teams are just doing this naturally now.

Find out more about working with BIHR to support better quality care by contacting Jasmine on jpowell@bihr.org.uk