In this article, Chris explains the rights protected under the Human Rights Act 1998 and how these contribute to an important facet of nursing, as well as what nurses can do to promote human rights in their practice.
Every individual in society has an equal moral status. Although this status is often used as a means to describe an individual's legal rights, its existence does not always mean a legal right exists. It is only the moral rights that actually become law that can be enforced as substantive rights within the Courts. These legal rights are known as human rights.
What Human Rights Are Protected By Law?
The primary global statement on human rights is found within the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was first announced in 1948. Within the UK, substantive rights are protected through the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA).
The HRA sets out the fundamental rights that each citizen is entitled to, and enshrines the rights provided in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. It has been active since the year 2000.
There are fourteen protected rights within the HRA, each addressing an individual's rights within a particular area:
• Article 2: Right to life.
• Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
• Article 4: Freedom from slavery and forced labour.
• Article 5: Right to liberty and security.
• Article 6: Right to a fair trial.
• Article 7: No punishment without law.
• Article 8: Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence.
• Article 9: Freedom of thought, belief and religion.
• Article 10: Freedom of expression.
• Article 11: Freedom of assembly and association.
• Article 12: Right to marry and start a family.
• Article 14: Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms.
• Protocol 1, Article 1: Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property.
• Protocol 1, Article 2: Right to education.
• Protocol 1, Article 3: Right to participate in free elections.
• Protocol 13, Article 1: Abolition of the death penalty.
The HRA essentially sets out a minimum standard of how individuals should be treated by the Government. All services exercising a public function, for example healthcare services must adhere to the HRA. The government is also obliged to protect the rights of individuals who use private healthcare.
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The NHS Constitution And The CQC
It is also important for nurses within the NHS to give due consideration towards the NHS Constitution, which describes how the state:
“Has a duty to each and every individual that it serves and must respect their human rights. At the same time, it has a wider social duty to promote equality through the services it provides and to pay particular attention to groups or sections of society where improvements in health and life expectancy are not keeping pace with the rest of the population.”
The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the regulatory body overseeing healthcare services provides further guidance on this subject. The CQC said that they are focused upon the human right principles of fairness, equality, dignity, autonomy, right to life and rights of staff within their inspection of health and social care services.
The human rights of nurses are of equal importance to those of the patients they treat.
How The HRA And Nursing Is Linked
The concept of human rights and nursing practice shares a common ground. Nurses can consider human rights as being moral rights underpinning person-centred care, and the HRA can be viewed as an essential tool in achieving more positive outcomes for both patients and staff.
Nurses have a duty of care towards patients and accountability towards protecting the human rights of those individuals. Furthermore, nurses also have professional responsibilities within the code of practice provided by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Adopting this position within the delivery of healthcare can support nurses to practice within the parameters of human rights law, as a claim can be brought against a healthcare service if an individual believes that their rights under the HRA have not been respected.
As nurses, we are accountable for safeguarding, respecting and actively promoting an individual's human rights. Nurses have a duty to speak up regarding any violations of human rights, especially those breaches that relate towards essential healthcare, torture or inhumane, cruel and degrading treatment and/or patient safety. This is emphasised by the International Council for Nurses, who endorse the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
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Your Human Rights Are As Important As Your Patient’s
Issues relating towards human rights are dealt with daily by nurses within their professional roles. They should be vigilant towards any pressure being placed upon them to apply their skills and knowledge in a manner that could be of detriment towards patients and colleagues.
Nurses should be informed about current issues, for example how the use of technology and experimentation can be a violation of an individual's human rights. Particular attention should also be given towards vulnerable groups, such as women, children, the elderly, and traditionally marginalised groups.
Nurses can be viewed as both "duty bearers" and "rights holders" of human rights. This is due to the human rights of nurses being of equal importance to those of the patients they treat. Nurses should be able to perform their functions within an environment that is safe and without being exposed to violence, abuse and intimidation, and with no fear of reprisals.
When nurses focus upon the moral values of the profession, such as dignity and improving solidarity with others, they can be confident that they will likely be complying with human rights legislation.
How Can Nurses Promote Human Rights Within Their Practice?
Here are several examples of how nurses can embed the promotion of human rights within their practice, and most of these are performed on a daily basis within the healthcare environment:
• Advocating for those who cannot do so for themselves.
• Involving the patient in any decision making.
• Adopting a person-centred approach.
• Having respect for an individual's privacy, dignity and private life.
• Being non-judgemental and using compassion and respect.
• Confronting organisational policies and procedures that contravene an individual's human rights.
• Enable families and carers to visit patients and challenge practices that can prevent this.
• Work with patients to ensure their safety if they are at risk of self-harm.
• Take action where there are safeguarding concerns.
• Challenge any unlawful detention of individuals experiencing mental health problems.
• Challenge bad practice in residential and care homes.