The right to health is a fundamental human right. It means the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

The persistence of health inequalities means that not everyone is enjoying their human right to the highest possible standard of health in Scotland.

Social determinants of health

Our health is determined by the conditions in which we

  • are born
  • grow
  • age
  • live
  • work.

The right to health is therefore an inclusive right. This means that it includes not only the right to health services, but also to the wide range of things that help us live in good health - the ‘social determinants of health’.

The social determinants of health include

  • housing
  • education
  • employment
  • social support
  • family income
  • our communities
  • childhood experience
  • access to health services.

To ensure everyone enjoys the right to health, all of these things must be

  • available
  • accessible
  • acceptable and appropriate
  • of equal quality.

This is known as the ‘triple AAAQ framework’. These are standards that public health should aim to deliver if we are to create the fairer healthier Scotland we all need and want.

A human rights based approach

Taking a human rights based approach means that when planning to secure the right to health for all, we consider the PANEL principles. These make our work person focused, and also ensure support is targeted at the people who need the most help.

  • Participation – people should be able to voice their experiences and take part in decision-making. Policies and practice should support people to participate in society and lead fulfilling lives.
  • Accountability – organisations and people should be accountable for realising human rights. There is a floor below which service standards must not fall, but above that the journey towards full realisation of human rights should be understood as progressive.
  • Non-discrimination – everyone has the same rights regardless of their ethnicity, gender, income, religion, etc.
  • Empowerment – people, communities and groups should have the power to know and claim their rights in order to make a difference.
  • Legality – all decisions should comply with human rights legal standards.

Right to health and public health

The right to health and a human rights based approach strengthens public health initiatives.

As a set of internationally agreed rights, human rights provide a framework on which to build the case for public health initiatives that are inclusive and work for everyone. The right to health provides a framework to ensure that practice does not drift from well-intentioned policy. This ensures everyone is given the opportunity to enjoy the highest possible standard of health.

By providing this framework, underpinned by international agreements, human rights bring a common thread to public service reform and health and social care that will ensure everyone is given the opportunity to enjoy the highest possible standard of health.

The right to health is an inclusive right and so taking a human rights based approach helps to ensure a joined up focus, with the person at the centre.

Taking a human rights based approach to health involves

  • ensuring services are planned and delivered in proportion to need
  • ensuring services are available, accessible, appropriate and of equal quality
  • ensuring the fair and equitable distribution of the social determinants of health
  • thinking about how resources are allocated to ensure decisions about policy and spending are not contributing to health inequalities or making them worse
  • working with people to understand the factors that undermine their right to health and together identifying actions to make improvements
  • taking action to tackle economic and social inequalities alongside actions which specifically focus on disadvantaged groups and deprived areas.

You can find out more about the right to health in our inequality briefing.

You can also find out about how we fit into the wider public health work, and the future of public health in Scotland, on our Public health in Scotland page.

Our work on the right to health 

Our work over the last five years has focused on how a human rights based approach could underpin public service reform and health and social care delivery.

As we prepare for our part the new public health body, our goal is to ensure that the evidence we provide and the practical support we offer leads to everyone in Scotland achieving the highest attainable standard of health. The right to health for all is a positive, inspiring and inclusive message for the future.

We work closely with the Scottish Human Rights Commission (external website) to support the work of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP) (external website).

With The ALLIANCE (external website) we co-convene the SNAP Health and Social Care Action Group (external website).

These case study videos (external website) show people talking about the importance of a rights based approach to health.

A key part of a rights based approach to health is to support people with lived experience to influence policy and practice. We funded research on research on health and human rights with marginalised groups; ‘What do you mean I have a right to health?’ (external website). You can read the research, and watch a film about it, on the action group's website (external website). You can also read a case study about the right to health in practice (external website) on the SHRCs website.

If you would like to find out more about the right to health, please get in touch.