Equality in Health
We go though our lives with the benefit of only our own perspective. We see our experiences and the experiences of those around us through that one perspective, which makes it difficult to fully understand what the true experience of others is like. As a result, it can be challenging to recognize when equality in health and social care is lacking for other people or even ourselves but us not recognizing it doesn’t make it any less of a concern. Promoting equality is very important in all areas of society but particularly in health care settings where many people are vulnerable and perhaps disadvantaged by age or permanent impairments or even on a temporary basis due to illness or disease.
Simply put, equality in health and social care means the same access to care and health services for all people irrespective of certain key factors, including age, gender, and impairment. Good equality and diversity practices, both on the larger scale (government policy) as well on the smaller scale (individual provider/clinic), ensure that health and social care services are fair and accessible to all. A comprehensive equality and diversity policy is at the core of the provision of health and social care at both an organizational/management level and on a daily basis, with the provision of services by healthcare professionals and social care workers.
As mentioned, the promotion of equality in health care operates on two levels. First, it must be inherent in the structure and policies of the care provider as a tangible document that can be produced or displayed from up-to-date policies and procedures. Second, equality operates on an individual level, affecting how each patient is treated daily by their healthcare providers. No two people are the same and the equality in their care and treatment will be totally bespoke to their situation - as distinctive and individual as their fingerprint.
Inequality is the result of discrimination, which can be active or passive and can easily be overlooked or even accidental. Staff or anyone directly involved in patient care should be educated in how to spot barriers and obstacles to equitable health care and this should be reflected in management policies in terms of compliance and continuing education. Understanding the barriers to equality in health care and being able to see them is essential to their removal.
It is so easy or even automatic to make judgements or assumptions when trying to connect with a new patient within a health care setting; looking for connection is the hallmark of an empathetic person but can cause unintended bias as it may be based on assumptions which might not be true. Even good intentions can result in accidental bias and lead to inequality. Equality impacts every aspect of health care from the physical structure of the building to how each individual patient or family is perceived and treated. The focus should be on unique person-centred care where potential areas of discrimination are there to highlight and alert staff. Making care more “holistic” in nature will automatically resolve any conflict points and ensure seamless equality for all patients.
Equality means health care that meets the needs of everyone and is thus inclusive without any discrimination. It’s easy to promote equality but as mentioned discrimination can be subtle, passive, or unintentional such as overlooking certain things or simple stereotyping as well as being more overt such as direct labelling or unashamed prejudice. Valuing and understanding what makes people different is the first step on the path towards inclusion and equality and of being aware of how these differences can impact access to health care, treatments, and even patient outcomes.
Understanding diversity is crucial to becoming inclusive and offering equal opportunities to all. Promoting person-centred care should always ensure that each patient’s unique characteristics
are at the forefront of the care plan or treatment and that health care providers (or anyone involved in their care) are non-judgemental. Person-centred care is holistic in nature and thus looks at all of the different aspects of a person’s care including emotional and physical support and social and cultural influences. Equality in health care is represented by an open door and accessibility for all and holistic treatment which embraces all diversity.
Equality-focused legislation provides a framework for health care providers to implement equality protocols and cascade these protocols to all staff. Rather than being just a policy or protocol, equality in health care should be person-centred and consistent across every level of care. In addition to increasing access to care and improving outcomes and patient experiences, equality in health care also impacts patient safety. This is a big task but it is essential for all of us providing care to patients in any capacity to take the opportunity, several times a year, to create/update policies on ensuring equal access and treatment to all patients and ensure that these protocols trickle down to everyone providing care under your umbrella. If you work in a larger centre, such as a hospital, it’s up to you to notice when documents need to be updated to be more inclusive, and point out any improvements that can be made in terms of accessibility to care. Even something that seems as simple as snow removal can be a barrier to care for people. Keep your eyes open and always be on the lookout for ways to improve care, making it warm and inclusive for all.