Do you know about Human Rights?

This is a guest blog from Jacqui Graves, PCI Ambassador, Primary Care Cancer Care Nurse, Advisor for Macmillan Cancer Support and Trustee at Penny Brohn UK, on the relationship between human rights and the delivery of personalised care.

Human rights can mean different things to different people and in different cultures and countries. Human rights recognise the inherent value of each person, regardless of background, where they live, what they look like, what they think or what they believe. Human rights in the UK are well established, and support the quality of life of UK residents.

Human rights are based on the shared values of fairness, respect, equality, dignity, and autonomy (the ability to make decisions, big or small, that are right for you, your life and your family) and belong to everyone equally. Anyone employed by the NHS and local and national government (Public Officials), has a legal duty to comply with the Human Rights Act, 1998, which is a legal framework for personalised care.

The Human Rights Act, 1998

The Human Rights Act of 1998 was based on the 16 fundamental human rights listed in the European Convention on Human Rights and is enshrined in UK law. The rights most important to healthcare are:

  • Right to life
  • No one should be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Right to liberty and security
  • Right to respect for private and family life
  • Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Right to enjoy human rights without discrimination

Many people feel wary of anything using the term ‘human rights’ because they have sometimes been portrayed negatively in the media. In reality, human rights are a useful tool that contribute to balanced and ethical decision-making in practice and ensure person-centred care. 

For patients, carers and the public at large, the Human Rights Act can be used to hold Public Officials to account, in particular, when their care, or the way they are being treated, is impacting negatively on one or more of these rights. 

For healthcare staff, who must make difficult decisions every day and sometimes challenge the decisions of other professionals, it gives them the backing to be able to say: 

“I’m not sure that we are acting in a rights-respecting way.”

In healthcare we need to be able to park our own moral and ethical values to understand that someone else may have a different set of values.  

That doesn’t make us right and them wrong, it just means that we need to understand our own biases and prejudices and then embrace and support somebody who may have a different perspective.

We are all allowed to make our own decisions about our care, providing we have had the information required to make an informed decision, and can demonstrate understanding and balance the pros and cons of each decision. Personalised care supports this approach through the use of shared decision making and teachback methods. 

Five Key Facts about Human Rights

  1. Everyone has human rights: patients, those who are important to them and staff 
  2. Human rights set the minimum standards for care in International, European and UK law
  3. The Human Rights Act, 1998, protects 16 rights under UK law 
  4. Those working in health and care must respect and protect these 16 rights 
  5. Those who are being cared for can use human rights to talk about their care and treatment

PCI resources for teachback and shared decision making

Looking for resources on teachback methods and shared decision making? 

The PCI offers a free 30-minute eLearning module on shared decision making, and two 30-minute bite-size training films on how to use the ‘teachback’ technique –  which encourages people to ‘teach back’ the information and instructions you have given them – in common health and care scenarios. Both of these resources are free to access, available 24/7 online and provide CPD points. 

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