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25th January 2017

Human rights in social care

Human rights have become a more prominent feature in social care services in Scotland.

This is in part because a review of the National care standards, which are used to regulate care services, has produced a document which is based on the principles of Human Rights.

It is useful to look at the structure of these new standards and the rights which they contain as well as the background to the developments in Scotland.

The new national health and social care standards

These are based on five principles, as follows:

  • Dignity and respect.
  • Compassion.
  • Be included.
  • Responsive care and support.
  • Well-being.

Under each of these principles the rights which people can expect, including their outcomes are listed. For example under ‘Be included’ the following rights are listed:

  • I receive the right information, at the right time, and in a way I can understand.
  • I am supported to make informed choices so that I can control my care and support.
  • I am included in later decisions about the way the service is provided, and my suggestions, feedback and concerns are considered.
  • I am supported to participate fully and actively in my community.

A strength of the new care standards is I believe the fact that they are given in first-person. The previous standards used second person language such as ‘you can expect…’ whereas the new standards are more easily adopted directly by the person reading them, and also suggest a more reliable commitment to upholding these rights. A further strength I believe is that the principles and standards apply to all services (although specific standards will apply to some special services). This compares well with the previous standards which were issued in 23 booklets which itemised and were named according to the sorts of issues and aims addressed by that service. This new approach avoids stigmatising vulnerable people and groups by being more all-encompassing and inclusive.

Background information on human rights in Scotland

The Alliance is an organisation of service providers and individuals in Scotland which aim to be ‘...about people living with long-term conditions being in ‘the driving seat’. It supports people to live their lives better, on their terms.’ The Alliance has produced an informative and useful booklet on human rights called ‘Being Human: a human rights-based approach to health and social care in Scotland’.

The booklet gives a summary of international human rights instruments and articles. It also covers the history and national policy on human rights in Scotland, as well as giving various case studies of successes and otherwise. They also cover the Scottish National Action Plan which monitors how human rights are promoted and developed across the country.

One important feature emphasised is that people must be empowered: they must acquire the power to know, understand and claim their rights. Also, these rights must be securely embedded in law and have a means of redress where they are not met.

What do care services need to do now?

It is important that care services adapt their training and procedures to this revised National Health and Social Care standards which will come fully into effect in April 2018. This will involve training to ensure that care staff, supervisors, and managers are all fully aware of the rights which are conveyed in the standards. Quality assurance methods and procedures will need to be modified to ensure the greater participation and inclusion of service users in these processes, and to include their views, opinions and suggestions.

There must also be a process of informing stakeholders, service users and their families about these more explicit rights and to ensure that they are supported, or have the ability to appeal if they are not satisfied with any forms of support provided.

And finally, perhaps it is important that the regulator, the Scottish Care Inspectorate, is convinced that the new standards are fully met, complied with and that the service has taken account of, and implemented the changes which are required to ensure this.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Tony Clarke

Scottish Care Inspectorate Specialist

Tony began care work as a care assistant in care of the elderly here in Scotland in the 1970s. He very much enjoyed promoting activities, interests and good basic care. After a gap to gain a social work qualification, he worked in management of care services, latterly as a peripatetic manager which gave him experience of a wide range of services.

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