Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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New health authorities need to advance equality

New health commissioning bodies should learn from the mistakes of their predecessors and take steps to meet their obligations under equality legislation to make a real difference to health outcomes according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Commission undertook a study assessing the performance of a sample of Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts in England with regard to the race, gender and disability equality duties. It found that many bodies were not taking sufficient action to address the diverse needs of people in Britain and to protect the rights of disadvantaged groups.

The Commission concluded that without a major re-think by new health bodies on how they tackle discrimination and advance equality some groups will continue to experience poorer health. For example:

  • Men are less likely to report health conditions than women, leading to worse implications for their health;
  • Infant mortality is higher than average among Black Caribbean and Pakistani groups;
  • Muslim people tend to report worse health than average; and
  • Women report higher incidences of mental health conditions.

The Commission’s recommendations include a requirement that health authorities collect data to ensure they have the right evidence base on which to make decisions, and provide guidance to the people making decisions about commissioning.

Until April 2011, health bodies in England were subject to equality duties regarding race, disability and gender. This meant that public authorities had to take steps to tackle discrimination and promote equality amongst the people they serve. The duties were replaced by the public sector equality duty in April 2011 which covers a wider range of groups such as age, religion or belief and sexual orientation.

Andrea Murray, Director of Policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“The introduction of the new equality duty and the reorganisation of the NHS is a good time for health bodies to re-think their approach to equality. Our research shows that many health organisations see equality as a box ticking exercise, and few were able to show they have used the duties to make a real difference to the health outcomes of particular groups.

“Acting upon the equality duty will help health organisations to develop effective services that meet patients’ needs, improve the health of the population and tackle disadvantage faced by particular groups.”

For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to Editors

Download:  The performance of the health sector in meeting the public sector equality duties: moving towards effective equality outcomes (PDF)

In April 2011 the existing equality duty was replaced a new duty. The new duty covers the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. See: Public sector equality duty

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.

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