This guide is for you if you are using healthcare or social care services as a member of the public. It does not apply to situations where a family member, friend or neighbour is helping you with your care.
Healthcare and social care is not just what you get from your GP (general practitioner or family doctor) or a hospital. These days, you probably get your healthcare and social care services in many different places, including in your own home.
View a list of healthcare and social care services examples here.
Does equality law apply?
If a healthcare or social care organisation provides any goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public, it must make sure it does what equality law says it must do.
It doesn't matter if:
- you get the service for free either because it is provided for free or because someone else pays for it, or
- you have to pay towards it in full or in part.
It doesn't matter if several organisations are working together, or if some of them are businesses, some are voluntary or community sector organisations or charities, and others are public bodies.
The size of the organisation does not matter either. Equality law still applies, although sometimes the rules are slightly different, for example, for charities.
Equality law affects everyone responsible for running an organisation or who might do something on its behalf, including staff or volunteers if the organisation has them.
Services and public functions
Some activities of healthcare and social care providers are what the law calls services. Some, usually if an organisation is a public body or under contract to a public body, are what the law calls public functions.
- Most face-to-face care you get from a doctor, nurse, dentist, physiotherapist, care assistant, personal assistant and so on, will count as a service.
- Services also include what other people do, such as receptionists, security staff and people who work behind the scenes making decisions about how treatment or care should be provided.
- Public functions include decisions about priorities for services, such as whether someone will be given a particular drug because of the costs involved.
It does not usually matter whether what is being done is a service or a public function. This is because, in general, equality law applies in a very similar way to services and to public functions.
In this guide:
- 'Service provider' and 'healthcare or social care provider' are used to mean any person or organisation that is providing healthcare or social care to members of the public, whether what they are doing counts as a service or as a public function.
- 'Service user', 'patient' and 'client' are used to mean you, or anyone else who is using the services of a healthcare or social care organisation or who is on the receiving end of a public function. It includes someone who wants to use services (for example, someone who is stopped or put off using a service by unlawful discrimination).
- 'Service' includes goods and facilities as well as services, and public functions.
The public sector equality duty and the Human Rights Act
Public sector organisations and others who deliver services for them or carry out public functions on their behalf must have what the law calls 'due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity' between people who have a particular protected characteristic and people who don't. These are known as the public sector equality duties, and they apply to the protected characteristics of race, disability and sex.
When you are receiving healthcare or social care from a public sector organisation or others who deliver services for them or carry out public functions on their behalf, you may also have rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Read more about the Public sector equality duty.