Putting human rights into practice – a human rights approach – means moving beyond the spirit of values and expressly using the language of the law to help achieve positive change. The Human Rights Act (HRA) is one of the most important laws protecting our rights here at home. The HRA is a “framework law”, with legal duties on public authorities, such as healthcare services, designed more for culture change than rafts of litigation. The HRA offers fresh ways into the age-old problem faced by healthcare services - how to keep human beings, rather than systems or targets, at the heart of delivery. As the real-life examples on this siteshow, looking at issues through a human rights lens can help:

  • Healthcare staff see things from a different perspective; improve attitudes and practices and provide a useful framework for making (often difficult) decisions at policy and day-to-day service levels
  • Empower people using services and families/carers/advocates to speak up when things are going wrong and help find an appropriate and fair solution


Whilst there is much to celebrate in the NHS, there are also some stark reminders that things do go wrong and much needs to be done to address these failures in care and to prevent repeating the mistakes of the past. For example, a human rights approach means seeing recently reported avoidable deaths due to dehydration, malnutrition and poor care as a right to life issue and thinking about how these legal (not simply moral) duties can lead to better enforcement.


Human rights can be a practical tool, providing a framework which helps organisations to make (often difficult) decisions. Using this framework can help ensure the process of decision making - in the often busy fast-paced environment of healthcare services - is a fair one, with the individual at its centre. It’s important to remember that human rights are not about a ‘right or wrong’ answer, but using a human rights framework should help you to make the best decision in the circumstances. It helps to move a decision away from an individual judgement of what is morally right or wrong, to one framed in universal legal standards.