Patrick is a learning disabled man living in the North West of England. One afternoon a district nurse, Mary, paid him a visit at home, and was very concerned by what she saw. Patrick was living in a small single room that functioned as a bedroom, living room and bathroom all in one. His shower wasn’t working, forcing him to use a hand towel and bowl for washing, and the toilet was close to the bed. Ensuring access to proper washing facilities should have been a high priority for Patrick’s housing provider, as he often soiled himself and spread faeces around the room.

Mary raised her concerns with social services first of all, as Patrick was paying for his accommodation with some assistance from a support package arranged by them. However, they refused to accept that there was anything wrong with his living arrangements.

In need of some more information, Mary talked to the equalities team at her local NHS Trust, who had been working with BIHR. The equalities team explained that the Human Rights Act might be relevant. They suggested that Patrick’s living arrangements could be having a negative impact on his human rights, and specifically his right to respect for private life (Article 8) and his right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading way (Article 3). They explained that his right to private life might be compromised by the cramped and unsanitary state of his room. Additionally, the fact that Patrick often had to spend long periods of time covered in his own faeces, with no suitable way of washing himself, meant that he was potentially experiencing inhuman and degrading treatment.

With some concrete information about Patrick’s human rights and the local authority’s duty under the Human Rights Act to respect them, Mary was able to return to social services, and also get in touch with the housing provider. She set out how in her opinion, Patrick’s rights were at risk under his present living arrangements, and that both services had a duty to protect Patrick’s dignity.

Framing the situation using human rights language completely changed the conversation in Patrick’s case. Social services reconsidered its initial response to Mary’s concerns, and found new accommodation for Patrick that was far more suited to his needs. He now has a little more space and proper washing facilities, and his quality of life is hugely improved as a result. Speaking to BIHR, Mary said “The Human Rights Act is there to be used and has been really helpful in this case.”