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 existence of health inequalities in Scotland indicates that the right to health is not being enjoyed equally across the population.

You can read our health inequality briefing on the right to health below.

Social determinants of health

The right to health is an inclusive right. This means that it includes not only the right to health services, but also to the wide range of factors which help us to achieve the highest attainable standard of health (the social determinants of health). Health is socially determined by the conditions in which we are born, we grow and age, and in which we live and work.

An infographic using 8 icons to represent each of the social determinants of health listed in the text below.

The infographic above shows that 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 such facilities, goods and services must be:

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

You can find out more in our health inequality briefing 'Human rights and the right to health'.

A human rights based approach

Taking a human rights based approach is about integrating the principles of human rights into policy and decision making.

The principles underlying a human rights based approach are

  • Participation – people take part in decision making and have a voice.
  • Accountability – organisations and people need to be more accountable for realising human rights.
  • Non-discrimination – everyone has the same rights (regardless of their ethnicity, gender, income, religion for example).
  • Empowerment – to give the power to the people to know and claim their right in order to make a difference.
  • Legality – to make sure all decisions answer to human rights legal standards.

These are known as the PANEL principles. 

Taking a human rights based approach to health supports the decision making process.  It enables planners to work through challenging decisions on the basis of clear principles. 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 is 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.

Our leaflet, ‘The right to health: Tackling inequalities’ offers a short guide to the right to health.

Our work on the right to health 

Our vision is for everyone to have the resources needed to enjoy the highest attainable standard of 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.

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). SNAP was launched by the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in 2013. With The ALLIANCE (external website) we co-convene the SNAP Health and Social Care Action Group. Current work of this Group includes the review of the NHS complaints process and the National Care Standards.

You can watch case study videos (external website) of people talking about the importance of a rights based approach to health on the SNAP Health and Social Care Action Group website. You can also read ‘What do you mean I have a right to health?’ (external website), research on health and human rights with marginalised groups, and watch a film about the research.

You can also read a case study about the right to health in practice (external) on the SHRCs website.

Last year we co-hosted a seminar on human rights based approaches to health and social care. You can watch a short video (external website) which includes talks from speakers on the day.

You can contact us to find out more about our work on the right to health.