A human rights based approach to health and social care in Scotland

Written by: Andrew Strong, Policy and Information Officer, the ALLIANCE

Published: 14/05/2013

In Scotland, this is a crucial time for the human rights agenda.

Human rights provide us with the unassailable principle that people should be equal and free to participate as full and active members of society.  Health and social care support provides one tool, among others, to ensure disabled people can do this; living the life they choose, at home, at work and in the community. The ALLIANCE recognises that without it many people cannot enjoy the human rights to which they are entitled.

Welfare reforms and tightening eligibility criteria for social care support, however, are threatening to erode the support many people need to enable their full participation.  If people are pushed to receiving only ‘life and limb’ support we will see unacceptable costs to individuals and to our society as the voice, value and contribution of many of our citizens is severely diminished.

As public services struggle to reform to meet increasing need with smaller financial resource, human rights offers a fair and consistent basis to guide policy development, service redesign and resourcing decisions.  This requires human rights principles to be embedded clearly within law and policy – for example the health and social care integration legislation – and within processes and decision making, including local strategic commissioning.  It also requires far greater understanding of human rights across Scottish society.

Being Human

In Scotland, this is a crucial time for the human rights agenda.  On International Human Rights Day, 10 December, this year the Scottish Human Rights Commission will launch “Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights”.  Its publication will coincide with Scottish Government plans to legislate for the integration of health and social care and a wider public service reform agenda that emphasises the importance of involving people and communities in responding to societal challenges and needs.

Ahead of this, the ALLIANCE is joining the SHRC in calling for a more explicit linkage between public service reform and human rights.  To support this, the ALLIANCE’s recent annual conference in Perth launched a thinkpiece highlighting the importance of embedding human rights in health and social care.  Our conference heard from a range of speakers including the Scottish Government’s Minister for Public Health, Michael Matheson MSP, and Alastair Pringle, Scotland Director, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Alan Miller, the Chair of the SHRC, told delegates that the State Hospital in Lanarkshire, a high security forensic mental health hospital for Scotland and Northern Ireland, had decided to use the Human Rights Act as a vehicle for cultural change, after a critical report by the Mental Welfare Commission in 2000.

An independent review carried out by the SHRC found that chosing to put the human rights of everyone – staff, patients, carers and family members – at the heart of The State Hospital’s services led to a move from an institution where rights were largely “left at the door”, towards a more positive and constructive atmosphere with mutual respect between staff and patients.  It found that increased participation of patients in decision-making had resulted in better staff and patient engagement, increased work-related satisfaction amongst staff, and increased satisfaction amongst patients over their care and treatment.

Our “Being Human” thinkpiece, published on the day, argues that such an approach can improve the experiences of disabled people and people who live with long term conditions, offering a basis for high quality health and social care that supports people not just to stay well but to enjoy independent living and active citizenship.


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