Taking legal action about discrimination in health and care services
If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination by a healthcare or care provider, you may be able to take legal action against the person or organisation who discriminated against you - for example, a GP or care home worker.
Read this page to find out more about taking legal action against a healthcare or care provider if you've been discriminated against.
Making a discrimination claim
Taking court action can be a long and stressful process. It can also be expensive. It’s important to keep in mind that if you lose the case in court, you may have to pay the legal costs of the healthcare or care provider which could be high.
If you’re thinking about taking court action, you should get advice from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.
Check whether discrimination has taken place
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. If you want take action about discrimination, you need to be reasonably sure that discrimination has taken place, according to the Equality Act.
If the treatment doesn’t count as unlawful discrimination under the law, you may still have been treated badly or unfairly and you may be able to do something about it - for example, make a complaint.
Where do you make a discrimination claim?
You can make a discrimination claim in the Sheriff Court.
What are the time limits for making your claim?
There are strict time limits for going to court. You need to make your claim within six months less one day of the act you’re complaining about. It’s important to keep this in mind if you want to try and resolve your problem informally first.
The court can allow a claim outside the time limits, but only if it considers it just and equitable to do so.
Can you get legal aid?
You may be able to get legal aid to help you pay for your court action. To get legal aid you need to meet the eligibility criteria. You can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) who can help you find out if you can get legal aid.
- You can also check if you’re eligible on the GOV.UK website, at www.gov.uk
What do you need to show the court?
To show unlawful discrimination, the Equality Act says you need to prove enough facts from which the judge can decide, without any other explanation, that discrimination has taken place.
If you can show the court facts from which it can conclude that unlawful discrimination has happened, it’s then up to the person or organisation who discriminated against you to show it's not unlawful discrimination.
How do you obtain information to support your claim?
It’s a good idea to keep all emails, letters or other documentary evidence if you have this to support your claim. In addition there are ways of getting more information for when you go to court.
You can ask for information about your treatment from the person you think has discriminated against you. If you’ve been discriminated against by a public authority, like an NHS hospital, you may also be able to make a Freedom of Information request.
You can find more information about making a freedom of information request from public authorities that have responsibility for the UK as a whole or England, Wales and N. Ireland on the Information Commissioner's website at
You can find more information about making a freedom of information request from public authorities with responsibility for Scotland only on the Scottish Information Commissioner’s website at
What can the court do?
The court can:
- make a declaration that the discrimination happened
- order the healthcare or care provider to give you compensation
- make an order telling the healthcare or care provider to do or not to do something - this is called an interdict.
If the healthcare or care provider is a public authority
What's a public authority?
The law says a public authority is an organisation which provides public functions or services. This can be a public sector organisation, like an NHS hospital, but it can also be a private organisation or charity if it carries out public functions. For example, a private care home can be a public authority if it's funded by the local authority to provide residential care on it's behalf.
Using human rights law to strengthen your claim
If the healthcare or care provider who discriminated against you is a public authority, you may be able to use the Human Rights Act 1998 to strengthen your discrimination claim. You could also make a separate human rights claim.
Other legal claims
In addition to a discrimination or human rights claim you may be able to make:
- a public sector equality duty claim
- a public law claim.
- Taking action against a public authority about discrimination in health and care services
- Protecting your human rights when using health and care services
- More about taking action about discrimination and making a court claim
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)
- You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at www.equalityhumanrights.com.