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Health and care services - pregnancy and maternity discrimination

This advice applies to Wales

If someone providing healthcare or care services treats you unfairly because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or because you’ve recently given birth, you may have been unlawfully discriminated against. The Equality Act 2010 calls this pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about pregnancy and maternity discrimination when you receive health and care services.

When is it pregnancy and maternity 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.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is when you’re treated unfairly because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or because you’ve recently given birth. You don’t have to show you’ve been treated differently than someone else. All you need to show is that you’ve suffered a disadvantage.

Example

Your GP surgery requires all patients to come in an queue for same day appointments. You’re 8 months pregnant and can’t queue for any length of time. You therefore find it difficult to access same day appointments. This is discrimination because of your pregnancy. It doesn’t matter that the policy applies to all patients alike.

If you’re pregnant

It’s unlawful discrimination if - for example, a GP receptionist or hospital security staff, treats you unfairly because you’re pregnant or you have been pregnant.

If you’ve given birth

It’s also unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfairly because you’ve given birth or you’re breastfeeding. You’re only protected against discrimination for 26 weeks following the day you gave birth. If you’re treated unfairly after this, you could still be protected against discrimination because of your sex.

If your baby is stillborn, you’re still protected against discrimination as long as you were pregnant for at least 24 weeks

Example

A receptionist in a dental surgery asks you to stop breastfeeding your baby in the waiting area. This is discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity if you’re baby is under 26 weeks old.

Taking you pregnancy and maternity into account

A healthcare or care provider may refuse to provide you with a service or provide you with a different service after an assessment of your needs as a patient or client. Your pregnancy or maternity are important factors in deciding how to treat you or what services to provide you with. Taking your pregnancy or maternity into account in this way is not unlawful discriminnation. But a decision based on a stereotyped view of pregnant women or women who have recently given birth would be unlawful.

There is also a general exception in the Equality Act, allowing healthcare and care providers to discriminate against you if you’re pregnant.

When is it lawful to discriminate against you because of your pregnancy?

It’s lawful for a healthcare or care provider to refuse to provide you with a service or treat you differently because you’re pregnant if there are health and safety reasons for doing this.

The service provider must reasonably believe there’s a risk to your health and safety if the service was provided to you. And it’s only lawful if the service provider would also treat someone with other physical conditions - for example, someone with a back condition, differently for health and safety reasons.

Example

Your local hospital refuses to provide you with a specific physiotherapy treatment because you’re pregnant. They don’t offer it to other people with certain health conditions as well. This is not unlawful discrimination because the decision to exclude pregnant women from the treatment is for health and safety reasons.

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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