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Health and care workers report lack of legal training on how to uphold human rights law during COVID-19: BIHR

More than three quarters (76%) of people working in health and care who responded to a call for evidence told the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) that during COVID-19 they were not provided with legal training or clear information about upholding human rights law.

The BIHR research, which was published last month and has been submitted to an inquiry being carried out by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, also found that:

  • Over 82% of people working in health and care who responded told the BIHR that it had been harder to uphold human rights during COVID-19;
  • Over 79% of people working in health and care who responded said that during COVID-19 they were not provided with legal training or clear information about the use of emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act.

The BIHR also submitted evidence from people with care and support needs, families, friends and carers. This found that:

  • Over 68% of people who responded told the BIHR that their care and support (or that of their loved one) had got worse during COVID-19.
  • Over 23% said that they used to be involved in decision making about their care and support but since COVID-19 they were no longer involved.
  • Over 54% said they were not told how to challenge decisions made about their care and support during COVID-19.
  • 60% were not told under what legal basis the change to their care and support was made during COVID-19.
  • Over 69% were not provided with information that the duty to respect their human rights had not changed as a result of COVID-19.

Sanchita Hosali, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights, said: “During COVID-19 we’ve heard the line ‘this virus does not discriminate’ many times; our research shows that the reality of the government’s pandemic response has been very different. People with care and support needs are on the sharp end of decisions to change, restrict and deny access to medical treatments, as well as the very basic things that we all need to live well, especially in these most difficult of times.

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“Almost 1 in 10 people told us they had experienced pressure or use of Do Not Resuscitate Orders, 50% of staff in health, care and social work felt people were being discriminated against because of they have care and support needs, and more than 50% of advocates and community groups said there was no clarity about what laws were being used to enable these drastic cuts to people’s care.”

Hosali added: “These have been unprecedented times, but times in which people and their human rights must be front and centre. Human rights must guide the COVID-19 response, an essential warning system to show who is most at risk, and a framework for making the difficult decisions. Having supported over a 1000 people across the UK since April we know that too few know and advocate for their human rights as legal standards that not only should, but must, be abided by. Yet, this same work also shows that when people and staff use human rights in these difficult times, they can challenge the inequalities in service delivery, practices and policies that put people at risk.

“There are calls for inquiries, and accountability must be ensured. But more than this, the pandemic has exposed further how poor law, policy and practice means some lives are deemed less worthy. It is not enough to look back and say that was wrong; we must look for change now and in the coming months; there must be immediate change. If we truly believe in dignity and respect, then the human rights principles of lawful, legitimate, proportionate and non-discriminatory must guide the response to, and recovery, from this pandemic.”

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