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Organisations' duties

Health, Care & Social Work

Everyone working in public bodies, such as healthcare workers and social workers, has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights under the Human Rights Act. This duty also applies to people working in hybrid public authorities that are carrying out public functions – such as private-sector healthcare workers delivering NHS services.

The Care Act 2014 also confirms that anybody delivering care which has been arranged or paid for (in any part) by the local authority has the same duties to the people they are caring for. Across the UK there are regulators of health and social care, such as the Care Quality Commission in England or the Care Inspectorate in Scotland. They themselves are public bodies so have a legal duty to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights in all their actions, including supervising health and social care services.

Public officials must apply other laws, including health and social care laws such as the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act, in a way that is compatible with human rights wherever possible. The Human Rights Act provides a legal framework that can guide and support rights-respecting decisions about the support provided.

While non-absolute rights (like the right to private life) can be restricted if it is lawful, legitimate and proportionate, absolute rights can never be interfered with.

From our experience working in the care and support sector, we know that organisations work better when staff understand and can use the Human Rights Act as a tool to help them make effective decisions and those that use the service are empowered to know and speak up for their rights.

As a residential care home staff member said, “human rights are something that every human should have knowledge on, they apply to us all".

Get our resources for health, care and social work professionals here.

Key information

Who is this for:
Public bodies

Last updated
22nd November 2022

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Real life stories

Article 2 issues may arise when wrong or insufficient care or treatment puts people’s lives at risk.

At Admiral Court Care Home, there were not enough staff to provide proper care or deal with emergencies. This put the residents’ right to life at risk. Medication was also being handled improperly which put both the residents and the staff at risk. The Care Quality Commission then took enforcement action against the home, banning them from taking in more residents.

Article 3 issues may arise when a person is treated in a way that is humiliating or impacts their dignity.

Laura is a consultant who works with older people and has worked with BIHR in the past. She was visiting a nursing home in London and saw several residents were effectively trapped in tilt-back chairs that had been introduced because they stopped people from trying to get up, falling and hurting themselves. The chairs meant residents who were previously very independent had to wait for staff to get them out of the chairs to go to the toilet or get something to eat. It also meant that residents weren’t walking around very often and so started to find walking very difficult. Laura raised her concerns that this constituted inhuman or degraded treatment and the policy was changed to staff who could walk were no longer placed in tilt-back chairs.

Article 5 issues may arise when blanket policies are imposed that inhibit people’s movement – such as locked door policies.

Peter was a 91-year-old veteran of the Second World War who lived with dementia. He saw friends regularly and enjoyed looking after his pet cat, Fluffy. Some of Peter’s friends raised concerns that he was unable to look after himself and the local council then sent him to a locked unit for 17 months. Although the records said Peter went voluntarily, he was clearly reluctant to do so and distressed. Courts found that this breached his right to liberty and he was falsely imprisoned. The court awarded him damages of £60,000 and he was able to return home with a care support package.

Article 8 issues may arise when people are prevented from seeing their relatives without good reason or when their mental or physical wellbeing is impacted.

Paul was a young person who had suffered traumatic experiences in his home borough over 14 years. He was involved in a lengthy legal battle to be rehoused somewhere he felt safe. After attending a youth empowerment project run by BIHR and a local supported housing organisation, he wrote a letter to the court explaining that his Article 8 rights were being breached as his mental and physical wellbeing was being impacted. He was then provided with safe housing outside the borough and said the important outcome for him was not only his rehousing but the feeling that he had a right to a voice and to be heard.

Article 14 issues may arise when decisions are made about someone’s care based on discriminatory presumptions about their health or capacity.

Melina had dementia and was living in a nursing home near her family. However, when her family became unable to pay towards her fees, the local authority decided to move her to a different nursing home 30 miles away. She was not involved in the decision because the local authority made assumptions about her capacity. Her advocate said the move would impact her right to private and family life and not including her in the decision was discriminatory. The local authority decided to cover the full cost of the fees so Melina could stay in her home.

Article 1, Protocol 1 issues may arise when people do not receive benefits they are entitled to. They may also arise when inpatient wards or care homes unfairly restrict people’s access to their belongings or have blanket policies about confiscating belongings.

St Aubyn Centre Children’s NHS Unit banned inpatients from having phones because of concerns about inappropriate usage. After training from BIHR, staff realised this was a disproportionate interference with the inpatients’ right to possessions and changed the policy so safety concerns are managed on an individual basis.

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