Belfast Telegraph

Patients' rights in spotlight

By John Corey

The healthcare system here, most recently A&E, is never far from the media spotlight – not surprising when you consider that more than 700,000 people attend A&E every year. But the scale of demand has resulted in tremendous pressure at peak times.

The Human Rights Commission has considered emergency healthcare and how it impacts on the lives of people here.

We have concluded that an assessment measured against the human rights obligations of the State is needed. The commission has, therefore, announced an inquiry.

Last January, after an episode at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, the Regulation Quality and Improvement Authority carried out a four-day inspection of the emergency department. The inspection team reported an adverse effect on patients' dignity.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights protects the right to health. What this means, in the context of A&E care, will be the subject of the inquiry.

We are concerned to examine the accessibility and quality of the service, responsiveness to need, access to information, individuals' involvement in decision-making and provision and support for staff.

There will also be public hearings in September and October. The commission will be calling on the Minister for Health and senior officials to provide evidence in public session.

We are encouraging those who have recently experienced emergency healthcare, in particular those who have attended A&E, to come forward.

Importantly, the commission wants to hear from staff who oversee and provide this vital service.

If you are a patient, family member, carer, staff member, or representative of an interested organisation, we want to hear from you. With your evidence, we aim to highlight good practice and, where warranted, make recommendations for change.

The commission has opened a confidential freephone for the next three weeks – 0800 028 6066. Evidence can also be submitted at www.nihrc.org/inquiry.

John Corey is interim chair of the NI Human Rights Commission

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