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Health and care services - discrimination because of something connected to your disability

This advice applies to Scotland

If you’ve been treated unfairly by a healthcare or care provider because of something connected to your disability, you may have been discriminated against.

The Equality Act 2010 calls this discrimination arising from disability. If you’ve been discriminated against, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about discrimination arising from disability when you receive health and care services

What’s meant by discrimination arising from disability?

Discrimination arising from disability is when you’re treated unfairly because of something connected to your disability rather than the disability itself. It can be anything as long as it’s connected to your disability.

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.

Examples of things connected to your disability

Here are examples of things to do with your disability:

  • the need for regular toilet breaks
  • restricted diet
  • need for an assistance dog
  • behavioural issues
  • speech or movement difficulties
  • the need to use a wheelchair or other special equipment.

Example

Your local hospital operates a booking system whereby patients have to phone in and leave a message. You’re then called back at a later time for an appointment to be made.

Because you’re deaf, it’s difficult for you to make an appointment by phone without someone helping you. This could be discrimination because of something connected to your disability as you need special equipment or help to make an appointment.

Can the healthcare or care provider justify the discrimination?

If you make a complaint about discrimination arising from disability, the healthcare or care provider might be able to justify it. They would have to show they have a good enough reason for discriminating against you.

Example

Health and safety could be a good enough reason for discriminating against you because of something connected to your disability. But only if there’s a real health and safety concern and it’s necessary to discriminate against you to ensure your or someone else’s health and safety.

Must the healthcare or care provider know you’re disabled?

For discrimination because of something connected to your disability to be unlawful, the healthcare or care provider must know you have a disability.

In some circumstances, it will be obvious you have a disability. For example, if you use a wheelchair.

In other situations, it may not be so obvious that you’re disabled, so the healthcare or care provider can’t be accused of discriminating against you because of something connected to your disability. But if you point it out to them and they still don’t stop discriminating against you, this would be unlawful.

If the healthcare or care provider won’t provide you with a service because of your behaviour

A healthcare or care provider can lawfully set standards of behaviour they expect their patients or clients to follow - for example, behaving with respect towards the staff and other patients. It’s not unlawful discrimination if someone refuses to provide you with a service or provides you with a different service in accordance with these rules.   

But sometimes, the way you behave could be linked to your disability. A healthcare or care provider must make sure they consider how their rules affect people with certain disabilities. They should make reasonable adjustments if necessary to make sure disabled people aren’t disadvantaged by the rules. If you’re treated unfavourably because of the rules, it could be discrimination because of something connected to your disability.

It’s more difficult for a service provider to justify discrimination because of something connected to a disability if they’ve not made these adjustments.

Example

A nurse refuses to treat you at home because of your aggressive behaviour. He is entitled to do so under his employer’s standards of behaviour policy. But because your behaviour is connected to your disability, this could be discrimination. You’ve been treated unfavourably as you can’t get the treatment you need at home. It will be more difficult to justify the discrimination if the care provider has not considered how the policy can be adjusted for people with certain disabilities.

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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