Belfast Telegraph

My View: You have a right to a good NHS

By Paul Hunt

There are few institutions as important as an effective health system. Because a health system is so important (literally, a matter of life and death) it is buttressed by human rights law. Numerous human rights bear upon a health system, such as the rights to life and privacy. But the human right of central relevance (recognised in international instruments that are legally binding in Northern Ireland) is the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

The right to health requires equitable services, properly trained (and paid) staff, accessible health information, quality technologies, adequate financing and participatory governance.

It requires accountability, so we know what is working and can continue, and what is not, so actions can be taken to improve the service.

Emergency services are among the most vital in any health system. In Northern Ireland, health workers, often working under intense pressure, do all they can to save lives.

But we also hear serious complaints about inadequate emergency care and unacceptable treatment. Do these complaints have foundation? If so, are they one-off, or systemic?

This month, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched an inquiry into emergency health services.

Based on the authorities' legally binding commitments, the inquiry will use the right to health 'lens' to ask what is going right (and wrong) in Northern Ireland's emergency services.

The inquiry will make constructive recommendations that will help to ensure emergency health services are of the highest standard. In this way, the commission will also help the authorities implement their human rights obligations.

There have been many reported incidents and tremendous pressure at peak times in accident and emergency departments.

This inquiry provides a transparent and participative process for patients, families, carers and staff to report their experiences by contacting the confidential freephone – 080 0028 6066.

  • Professor Paul Hunt is a former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health

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