Skip to content Skip to footer

This advice applies to Scotland. Change country

Overview of discrimination in health and care services

If you’re treated unfairly when you receive health or care services because of who you are, it 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 more about how to decide if something is unlawful discrimination.

Identifying discrimination

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.

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's the unfair treatment - only certain types of behaviour count as unlawful discrimination
  • how is the treatment unfair - there are different types of unlawful discrimination.

Who’s treating you unfairly?

All health and care providers have a duty not to discriminate against you under the Equality Act.

Who mustn’t discriminate against you when you receive health services?

Anyone who works for the NHS or in the private healthcare sector has a duty not to discriminate against you. This covers, for example:

  • professional medical staff such as consultants, doctors and nurses
  • administrative staff such as receptionists
  • managers
  • security staff
  • cleaners
  • ambulance drivers.

Who mustn’t discriminate against you when you receive care services?

Anyone who works for a public or private care provider has a duty not to discriminate against you. This covers, for example:

  • social workers
  • care home workers
  • administrative staff, such as receptionists and secretaries
  • managers
  • cleaners
  • security staff.

Why are you being treated unfairly?

It’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of one of these things:

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

The Equality Act calls these protected characteristics.

What’s the unfair treatment?

The Equality Act says the following things could be unlawful discrimination by a healthcare or care provider if it's because of a protected characteristic:  

  • refusing to provide you with a service or take you on as a patient or client
  • stop providing you with a service
  • giving you a service of worse quality or on worse terms than they would normally offer
  • causing you harm or disadvantage
  • behaving in a way which causes you distress or offends or intimidates you
  • punishing you because you complain about discrimination, or help someone else complain.

How is the treatment unfair?

There are different types of unlawful discrimination. You may be experiencing unlawful discrimination by a healthcare or care provider if someone:

  • treats you differently and worse than others because of who you are, because of who they think you are or because of someone you are connected to – this is called direct discrimination
  • applies a policy, rule or way of doing things that puts you and other people like you at a disadvantage compared with others – this is called indirect discrimination
  • treats you badly because of something connected to your disability – this is called discrimination arising from a disability
  • fails to make a reasonable adjustment if you're disabled – this is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments
  • treats you in a way that is offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or distressing – this is called harassment
  • treats you badly because you complained about discrimination or because they think you complained about discrimination – this is called victimisation.

Examples of unfair treatment when you receive health or care services

  • you’re refused cancer treatment because of your age
  • you can’t register with a GP because you’re a Gypsy or a Traveller
  • you find it difficult to communicate with hospital staff because the hospital doesn’t provide BSL interpreters
  • a private care home refuses to accept you because you’re gay
  • a social worker is verbally abusive towards you because you’re a transsexual.

Next steps

Was this page helpful?
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •