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Taking action against a public authority about discrimination in health and care services

This advice applies to Wales

If you’ve been discriminated against by a healthcare or care provider you can take action under the Equality Act 2010. You can make a complaint or a discrimination claim in the civil courts.  

If you’ve been discriminated against by a public authority, like an NHS hospital or local authority care home, there are also other things you can do.  

Read this page to find out more about other actions you can take if you’ve been treated unfairly by a public authority.

What’s a public authority?

A public authority is an organisation which provides public services. This can be a public sector organisation, like an NHS hospital or social services. Private organisations or charities which carry out public services or functions are also called public authorities - for example, a private care home funded by a local authority.

Public authorities include:

  • social services
  • private care homes funded by a local authority
  • local authority care homes
  • NHS funded care homes
  • NHS health services like hospitals, GPs and dentists
  • other NHS bodies like NHS trusts in England, Local Health Boards in Wales or NHS Health boards in Scotland
  • private healthcare organisations providing NHS services
  • the Care Quality Commission in England, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate in Wales and the Care Inspectorate in Scotland.

The equality duty

The public sector equality duty can be used to challenge policies by public authorities which you think are discriminating against you. If the challenge succeeds, the policy might be changed for everyone in the same situation as you.

Public authorities have a duty to have regard to or think about the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity
  • foster or encourage good relations between people from different groups.

This means they must think about how their policies affect people who are protected against discrimination under the Equality Act. They must do this before they adopt the policy.

You can use the equality duty to strengthen a discrimination complaint or court action. You can also make a separate complaint or court claim saying a healthcare or care provider has breached their equality duty.

If you want to make a separate claim in the courts against a public authority, you need to use a special procedure called judicial review.

Using human rights law

Public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act 1998. This means you can use human rights law to make your discrimination case stronger. If you think a public authority has breached or not respected your human rights, you can say this in your discrimination complaint or court action.

You can also make a separate human rights claim or complaint. If you want to make a separate human rights claim against a public authority, you will usually have to make an application for judicial review.

Public law action

If you’ve been treated unfairly, but it’s not unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act, you may still be able to take action. If your human rights have been breached you can make a human rights claim.

In other situations, you may be able to take action by using public law principles. Public authorities must act within the powers they have under the law. If a healthcare or care provider has acted outside of these powers when making a decision which affects you, you can challenge the decision using public law principles.

If you want to make a public law claim, you need to make an application for judicial review.

What’s judicial review?

Judicial review is a special procedure you can use to challenge decisions made by public authorities.

Judicial review applications must be made in the High Court.

Judicial review can only be used where there are no better ways of challenging a decision.

What are the time limits?

There are very strict time limits for making the application. The application must be made as soon as possible and in any case within three months of the act you're complaining about.

Who can make a judicial review application?

You can only make a judicial review application if you have sufficient interest in the decision you want to complain about. This generally means you need to be personally affected by the decision.

If you’re thinking about taking court action, you should get advice from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

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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