Creating a fairer Britain
The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. Some of the information on this page may be out of date.
Good communication is essential to effective healthcare. All patients and users of health or social care should be kept informed about their treatment. They should be able to talk to those providing care, or making decisions about their treatment. It is the responsibility of your health or social care provider to overcome any problems with communication that may arise, not just in giving you information in a format that you can understand, but also in giving you sufficient opportunity to discuss your situation with the relevant people.
The ideal level of communication may not always be achievable; for example, where a patient lacks the capacity to take part in decisions about their treatment, or an emergency situation means that urgency of treatment is paramount.
However, if your health or social care provider fails to take appropriate steps to communicate effectively with you, this may amount to unlawful discrimination in some circumstances. The most likely complaint is either that a patient has been discriminated against on the grounds of race, ethnic or national origins (if there is a language barrier), or on grounds of disability (if a disability interferes with the person’s ability to communicate). If a matter to be discussed is of a personal medical nature that affects only women or men, and an interpreter is needed, the complaint may be about sex discrimination if the interpreter is not of the same sex as the patient.
A patient is referred to her hospital with a medical problem that affects only women. She has difficulty discussing it because of its very personal nature. The woman does not speak English well and often asks her son to interpret for her. However, because of the nature of the problem, she cannot ask him to do so.
The woman asks her hospital for a female interpreter so that she can explain the problem. The hospital only provides a male interpreter, despite the woman’s request.
This may be unlawful discrimination on grounds of both sex and race.