In this article
Promoting Equality and Diversity in health and social care is crucial to ensure that everyone is treated equally and respected the same way.
We are all different and it would be a very dull world if we were all the same. It is important to treat people equally and fairly despite any perceived differences they may have from us, and sometimes this can be hard to do if your own personal experiences have not prepared you for this.
Diversity means difference. It can refer to age, race, disability, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, beliefs, sexual orientation or anything else you can think of. In truth it doesn’t really matter what any of these differences are because you should always treat people as individuals rather than pigeonholing them into groups. The important point is that all groups are treated and valued equally with understanding and respect.
When you are working in health and social care it is crucial that everyone receives the same respect and is treated equally. It can be easy to get this wrong if you make assumptions and treat people in a certain way because of how you perceive their backgrounds rather than their actual needs and requirements.
What is equality and diversity?
According to the TUC (Trades Union Congress), equality is about ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity and is not discriminated against because of their characteristics.
Diversity is all about taking account of the differences between individuals and groups of people and in valuing those differences in a positive way.
According to Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, in speaking about employment opportunities,
“Regardless of age, race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability or the passport they hold, every worker should enjoy an equal chance to up-skill or learn something new at work.”
The same rules apply throughout all fields of life but are especially important when it comes to health and social care where people with special needs, disability or the elderly may struggle to take care of themselves.
According to Age UK, older people are increasing in numbers and this will bring special challenges. We have an ageing population with over 12 million people aged over 65 with an increasing number of people making it into their 90s (500,000 people) and many of these will need care and support.
In addition, according to Mencap there are 1.5 million people suffering from learning disabilities in the UK who also need support and healthcare.
There is also a wide range of race and ethnicity across the UK which are categorised into 18 distinct groups.
- English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British
- Gypsy or Irish Traveller.
- Any other White background.
Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups
- White and Black Caribbean
- White and Black African
- White and Asian.
- Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background.
Asian / Asian British
- Any other Asian background.
Black / African / Caribbean / Black British
- Any other Black / African / Caribbean background.
Added to this are other considerations like religion and sexual orientation such as gay or lesbian.
Why is equality and diversity important in health and social care?
If you work in health and social care it is important to ensure that equality and diversity are considered in everything you do. Everyone will need help from these services at some time in their lives and people from all backgrounds should have equal access to care and be treated with respect.
The elderly, those patients with special needs and people from all walks of life and different backgrounds will all need help at some time in their lives and it is important that everybody’s rights are safeguarded and protected by legislation.
Without considering equality and diversity and putting in legislation to ensure that this is maintained, the health and social care system could become a two-tiered system where the only people listened to and treated properly are those who look and act like the people treating them. Not great news for the elderly or special needs or those from ethnic backgrounds.
Equality, diversity and the law
There are laws to protect rights on equality and diversity in order to assure fair treatment for all. Let’s take a look at these to find out more.
The Equality Act 2010
It is against the law to discriminate against anyone on the basis of nine protective characteristics.
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation.
Obviously there are some cases where age discrimination must be allowed; such as if a 17-year-old wants to work on a building site but the company refuses to employ the under-18 age group because this group has a high incidence of accidents. However, preventing workers from undertaking training courses because they are too old, for example, is illegal.
There are some issues with this legislation. For example, the Equality Act says that you should be treated as the gender you want to be, rather than your physical gender. This means that if you are a man who identifies as a woman you should be treated as a woman. This part of the Act has raised concerns with women’s groups and safeguarding issues, but as the law stands it is illegal to discriminate against Trans people and their chosen way of life. If a man announces he is a woman you do have to respect his choice and treat him equally with women. This means he is technically allowed to use women’s spaces such as rest rooms and toilets; a move that has enraged many women as this ruling is so easily abused.
Discriminating against someone who is pregnant is also illegal but there can be cases where this necessary ruling is abused. For example, in some cases there could be a genuine reduction in work, if a business is struggling, but the reduction in work offered must be done in a non-discriminatory, fair way. However, sacking someone because they are pregnant is unacceptable.
Disability equality can be difficult too. A disability can be a minor impairment or a major life disadvantage requiring support and special treatment. Many small companies will not have the necessary aids to employ someone who might need special equipment such as the fitting of ramps or a suitable toilet, but on the other hand people with a disability should not face discrimination because of it.
The Human Rights Act 1998
The Human Rights Act gives rights set out in the European Convention of Human Rights. These are often referred to as Convention Rights and these must be followed by everyone including the police, immigration agencies and all public and private bodies. The Human Rights Act is there to protect all of us because it outlines how we should be treated regardless of background.
The Act has five principles. These are:
The Care Act 2014
The Care Act looks at the way people in care or those requiring support in the community are treated, and it puts people and the carers in control of their care and support.
The Care Act which came into effect in 2015 has been the most significant reform of health and social care in the last 60 years. The Act has taken the various pieces of legislation around care and bought all these together into one framework. The idea is that this will be easier to understand and easier to operate by the public and professionals alike.
There are changes to how assessments are made, including financial assessments, and there are changes to how and when people will be asked to contribute to personal care.
Other important changes include a new focus on prevention which is aimed at helping people lead healthier lives. There is also an emphasis on protecting vulnerable people from abuse and neglect and many other significant developments.
The Mental Capacity Act 2014
The Mental Capacity Act is designed to empower people regarding their health treatment and social care in allowing them to make their own decisions.
It can cover everything to what a patient wants to wear, right up to life changing decisions such as whether to have major surgery or to move into a care home.
The Mental Capacity Act applies to everyone over 16 and although some people may lack the mental capacity to make all their own decisions, such as people with a profound learning disability, severe mental illness, a brain injury, stroke or someone with dementia, in many cases people are capable of making some decisions about their treatment and care.
According to the Mental Capacity Act 2014, health and care professionals should always assume that a person has the capacity to make their own decisions unless it is proven otherwise.
If someone does not have the capacity to make decisions, treatment and care must always be in the patient’s best interests.
The Mental Capacity Act applies to all professionals working in health and care including doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and support workers.
Top tips for promoting equality and diversity
It is crucially important to promote equality and diversity in the workplace, whether you are working in health and social care or anywhere else. The important factor is that all staff members fully understand the policy so that they can implement it in everything they do in their day-to-day activities.
- Develop your company equality and diversity policy and ensure staff have read it.
- Do not tolerate bad language, sexism or racism in the workplace. Although this is often excused by perpetrators as banter, it creates a hostile and bullying environment. This should be a serious disciplinary matter.
- Lead from the top. Promoting equality and diversity will get through to your workforce and will help create an equal environment.
- Provide diversity and equality training for staff members that reflects the current legislation.
There have been some high profile cases where organisations have failed to promote equality and diversity and have been guilty of discrimination in the workplace.
Eileen Jolly, an 89-year-old woman working as a medical secretary in the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, was the oldest person to win a case on age discrimination. She was fired for being unable to use the computer and failing to upload details of cancer treatment for patients into the electronic database.
She complained to the employment tribunal and the judge established that she had never been correctly trained and was being discriminated against because of her age. Eileen Jolly was awarded £200,000 in compensation.
A Chinese couple were awarded £2,500 after suffering racial discrimination from a car sales company.
The couple were trying to buy a new car and although Mr Kin Hung Wong carried out the transaction in English, the couple switched to speaking Chinese between themselves.
The staff became angry and insisted that they spoke English but Mr Wong explained that his wife could not understand English well enough to do this. The staff members became aggressive and rude and the judge ruled that the car company had created a humiliating and degrading environment and ruled in the couple’s favour.
Cardiff company Brewdog bought out a special beer called Pink IPA to highlight the gender pay gap. The bottles of beer were £1.00 cheaper than their usual Punk IPA and they were only on sale to women.
A 27-year-old man attempted to buy four bottles of Pink IPA at the lower price but was told that the offer only applied to women customers. He was only allowed to buy it at the lower price by lying to the barman and saying that he identified as a woman.
The District Judge ruled in the customer’s favour, adding that the customer must have felt humiliated and the customer received £1,000 in compensation.
Code of conduct
Establishing a code of conduct not only ensures that your staff treats everyone fairly, providing the best possible care and treatment, but it will also prevent against charges of discrimination.
People working in health and social care need to follow these guidelines:
1. Everyone should be accountable and able to answer for all actions or omissions.
2. You should promote and uphold the privacy, dignity, rights, health and wellbeing of people who use health and care services and their carers at all times.
3. You should always work in collaboration with colleagues in order to ensure the delivery of high quality, safe and compassionate healthcare, care and support.
4. You should always communicate in an open and effective way to promote the health, safety and wellbeing of people using health and care services and their carers.
5. You must always respect a person’s right to confidentiality.
6. You should strive to improve the quality of healthcare, care and support and undertake professional development on an ongoing basis.
7. You should always uphold and promote equality, diversity and inclusion.
It is very important to consider equality and diversity as core values that underpin everything that you do. You might feel that you already treat everybody with equal respect but unless you understand their needs and their background it is highly likely that you will get this wrong.
The only way to ensure that you get this right is by ensuring that all staff members undertake equality and diversity training and always stick to the principles outlined in the various Acts that are there to protect us all. Fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy as outlined in the Human Rights Act apply to everyone, not only the people who look and act just like you.