Equality and Diversity Legislation in Health and Social Care

Equality and Diversity Legislation in Health and Social Care

There are many pieces of UK legislation that govern health and social care policies relating to equality and diversity. They include the Health and Social Care Act 2012 along with the Equality Act of 2010.

What is Equality and Diversity in Health and Social Care?

Equality and diversity in health and social care includes embracing people of all kinds and allowing them access to the relevant health and social services they need.

Promoting these ideals in health and social care is hugely important, as everyone should be able to access the relevant services and not have it affect work. They should both be a key component of any health and/or social care policy, not just an afterthought. Consequently, basic health or social services should not be restricted by people’s characteristics.

General Equality and Diversity Health and Social Care Legislation

The Health and Social Care Act (HSCA) 2012

The HSCA has a huge focus on restructuring the National Health Service (NHS) to combat contemporary problems, as well as inequalities in healthcare.

It was the first piece of legislation in the UK that included legal duties that tackled health inequality[1] and associated prejudice. It also meant that bodies, including NHS England and the Department of Health, legally had to prevent and reduce health inequality.

As the act states, these departments should “reduce inequalities between patients with respect to their ability to access health services… and outcomes achieved for them by the provision of health services”. [2]

Today, one of the biggest problems facing health and social care is mental health. Overtime it has become just as much of a problem than physical wellbeing. Previously, people with mental health issues were treated unequally as it wasn’t seen as much of a pressing issue as physical problems. However, this changes under the HSCA, and it seeks to achieve equality between these two problems in the NHS.[3]

The Equality Act 2010

This piece of legislation protects those who need or work in health and social care from discrimination. Overall, it secures equality, diversity and rights for all individuals.

The act covers “those receiving care and the workers that provide it from being treated unfairly because of any characteristics that are protected under the legislation”.[4]

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from harassment based on what it calls ‘protected characteristics.’[5] These include but are not limited to age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and disability.

This covers direct discrimination, or the act of mistreating someone by preventing health and social services due to a protected characteristic. It also covers indirect discrimination, which refers to imposing a requirement on a group of people equally, but one person cannot fulfil it due to a protected characteristic.[6]

The Equality Act 2010 gives some enforcement powers of these laws to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).[7] This is an independent body that drafts good practice guides and codes of conduct. They can impose fines on organisations up to £42,900, causing damage to reputations.

Other Laws

Additionally, there are other regulations specifically protecting employees from employer harassment. These include the Equality Employment Regulations, as published in 2003 and 2006. There are a number of these relating to age, religion or belief and sexual orientation.

This means that all organisations in the health or social care sector should have internal company policies. To ensure compliance, all employees should be aware of the policies and know where to access them. They should be clear and aim to foster a culture of inclusion. Additionally, they should have a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment or discrimination, especially when relating to sensitive topics.

You can view our Equality and Diversity online training course here.


[1] https://www.england.nhs.uk/about/equality/equality-hub/resources/legislation/

[2] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/7/enacted

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4523576/

[4] https://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide15/legislation/otherlegislation/equalityact.asp

[5] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance

[6] https://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide15/legislation/otherlegislation/equalityact.asp

[7] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en