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Discrimination when making a medical appointment

This advice applies to Scotland

You may find it difficult to make an appointment with a GP, hospital, private clinic or other healthcare provider. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly in some way, this may be unlawful discrimination. If you've experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out whether you may have experienced unlawful discrimination when making a medical appointment.

Have you been discriminated against?

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts.

If you think you've been discriminated against when making a medical appointment, you should check whether the discrimination is unlawful.

You can follow these steps to check whether unlawful discrimination has taken place:

  • why you are being treated unfairly - unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it's for certain reasons
  • who is treating you unfairly - unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it's carried out by certain people
  • what kind of behaviour has taken place - only certain types of unfair treatment count as unlawful discrimination
  • how is the treatment unfair - you need to identify what kind of discrimination the unfair treatment could be.

Why are you being treated unfairly?

Remember, it’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

Who is treating you unfairly?

All healthcare providers have a duty not to discriminate against you. This includes medical staff, such as consultants, doctors and nurses. It also includes non-medical staff, like receptionists, cleaners and security officers.

Examples of unlawful discrimination when you want to make a medical appointment

You’ve been unable to make an appointment

If a healthcare provider refuses to give you an appointment or makes it more difficult for you to get an appointment and it's because of a protected characteristic, it's direct discrimination under the Equality Act. Direct discrimination is when you're treated differently and worse than someone else because of a protected characteristic.

It doesn’t matter what the reason or intention behind the discrimination is. It may be because of prejudice, but it could also be for other reasons, like ignorance.

Example

You have a slight foreign accent. You call your dentist to make an appointment for your daughter. The receptionist is very impatient and rude on the phone. She tells you there are no appointments available and to call back another time. You later ask your husband, who’s English, to call instead. He gets an appointment immediately.

This could be direct discrimination because of race, if the receptionist’s behaviour was because she thought you were foreign.

You can’t make an appointment because of your disability

Places like hospitals, clinics and GP’s must make sure you can access and use their services if you’re disabled. They must take reasonable steps to remove the barriers you face because of your disability. The Equality Act calls this the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

A requirement to come in and queue for appointments or booking appointments by phone, could be a breach of the healthcare provider's duty to make reasonable adjustments.

If you’re in this situation, you can ask your healthcare provider to make the necessary changes so you can access or use their services. If a healthcare provider refuses to do this, it’s unlawful discrimination and you can take action under the Equality Act.

Your surgery or hospital has a way of doing things which makes it difficult for you to make an appointment

Some healthcare providers may have rules and policies which apply to all patients alike, such as a requirement to book all appointments by phone. If you find it more difficult to get an appointment because of a requirement like this, it could also be unlawful discrimination. You would have to show that other people who share your protected characteristic also find it difficult to meet the requirement.

The Equality Act calls this indirect discrimination.

Example

Your GP surgery requires people to come in and queue for same day appointments. This policy applies to all patients alike.

You’re in your eighties and can’t stand for long periods of time. It’s therefore more difficult for you to meet this requirement. If you can show that other elderly patients are also disadvantaged, it could be indirect discrimination because of age.

If you’re disabled a requirement like this could also be discrimination because of something connected to your disability. For example, if you can't use the phone booking system because you're deaf.

Taking action

If you’ve been discriminated against you can take action under the Equality Act. You can make a complaint or if necessary you can make a discrimination claim in court.

Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities

Some of your rights as an NHS patient are set out in this charter. This includes the right to choose and register with a GP. It also explains that you should not be discriminated against by NHS staff and must be treated with dignity and respect for your human rights.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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