Overview of the right to health

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.

For this to happen, services and systems that help us to live long healthy lives should be

  • accessible
  • available
  • appropriate
  • high quality.

This is the Triple AAAQ Framework and these are standards that public health should aim to deliver if we are to create the fairer healthier Scotland we all need and want.

The right to health is an inclusive right. This means that it is not just the health service that should meet these standards, all of the things that influence our health (the social determinants of health) should be accessible, available, appropriate and high quality if we are to have a healthier Scotland.

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

The video below explains why the right to health is so important to the public’s health.

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.

The SNAP - Health and Social Care Action Group site has various case studies which show people talking about the importance of a rights based approach to health. 

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 human rights should be understood as a progressive journey towards fulfilling the full potential of every human being. 
  • 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 promotes positive and progressive policy, but it also provides a framework to ensure that practice does not drift from well-intentioned policy and that 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.

Taking a human rights based approach to health involves

  • 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.
  • ensuring services are planned and delivered in proportion to need
  • ensuring services are available, accessible, appropriate and of equal quality

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

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.