A rant about human rights and trying to see a doctor

It must be time for a rant. I haven’t had one for a while and things build up.

Apparently the recently re-elected conservative government in the UK has plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Why would they want to do that? It’s sort of like saying, “Let’s scrap the right to vote for women. They don’t need it”. Or, “Let’s make it legal to keep slaves. We need the cheap labour”.

I don’t really know much about the act but the very notion of scrapping an act that is designed to protect human rights seems a bit backwards. I can understand a desire to add to it and fine-tune it but remove it altogether? What could they possibly be thinking???

According to this Guardian A-Z of the act, it incorporates things like:
* the right to life
* prohibition of torture
* right to liberty and security
* right to a fair trial
* freedom of expression

It all sounds very reasonable to me and I agree wholeheartedly with all of it. Thomas Paine is probably rolling around in his grave right now. Paine is the author of the Rights of Man, a book that was written in 1791.

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

People tell me that the philosophy of conservative politics is individual liberty. If that’s the case, then why would a conservative government scrap a law which specifically protects individual liberty and freedom of expression? This is why I’m a swing voter. I don’t think any one party ever really completely follows the philosophy they pretend to aspire to. It’s very much dependent on the person at the helm. I also think that the longer one party is in power the more they go from listening to the views of the population to becoming a power-crazed despot.

The other thing that peeved me off this week was trying to get an appointment for my father to see a GP. The GP system seems to work fine here if you’re registered somewhere, but if you’re not registered, then you’re at the mercy of the scary receptionist holding guard over the appointment book. I rang the place I’m registered with to get him an appointment. They said no, because he’s not a resident here, and that he’d have to go private. They gave me a private hospital to ring which I did but they had nothing until next week and Dad will be gone by then. I then began ringing every medical centre in Aberdeen trying to get an appointment. Some places were helpful until they discovered that I was registered somewhere already and this seemed to put up a barrier. They said I had to ring the place I am registered at. But each of the four times I rang my own surgery, they turned me away. I told them that Australia and the UK have a reciprocal health agreement which means that British citizens can access the health service in Australia when they’re tourists there and vice versa here. There’s information about this online:
and here:

In the end he got an appointment at a centre on the other side of town. They were really nice and not at all concerned that I wasn’t registered at their practice. I don’t understand why it had anything to do with me at all. I wasn’t the one seeking an appointment. I wasted an hour ringing around and in the end decided not to tell them that I was a resident here. What if we were both tourists and didn’t know anyone here who was already registered with a GP? Why should it matter that my father knows someone who is lives here? I hope British tourists in Australia get better treatment when they’re ill.

**NB** Apparently the conservative party plan to replace the Human Rights Act with their own Bill of Rights and so I was wrong in thinking that it’s a complete erosion of human rights. See comments for more info.

29 Replies to “A rant about human rights and trying to see a doctor”

  1. The Human Rights problem is part of the class system..

    Give the lower orders rights and it makes it harder to keep them in their place when they step out of line. Believe me, this is how a good chunk of our upper classes – who dominate the Conservative party – think. It’s not enough to be rich, people have to defer to you as well.

    It just takes a steady drumbeat of coverage from the right wing press to convince sufficient people that the HRA is actually a problem, and job done.

    1. I’ve just discovered that the conservative party plan to introduce a UK bill of rights which I did not know. I thought they were just getting rid of this one entirely and leaving it at that. So it’s not as bad as I thought but it’s possible the new one will be a watered down version.

  2. Sorry to hear of your Dad’s difficulties getting a doctor’s appointment. Even my daughter, living in UK, has the same problem; phone up for an appointment and be offered one in 2 weeks, by which time you will either have recovered by yourself, or be dead! I think your best bet if very sick is to walk into an A&E.
    As to UK politics, I really don’t know what they are thinking, but this sounds very serious and worth fighting for!

    1. I’ve only been to see the GP once and I got an appointment the same day and it was all great. I’m not sure if this was an anomaly or not. Time will tell.

  3. I liked out of habit but unliked this post because I don’t want to like your hassles 🙂

    Human rights, I am sure there is more to that story which we have no time or patience to explore.

    It is interesting to know that it is not easy for a citizen of one commonwealth country to access healthcare in the other.

    1. It should be easy to access healthcare though. They have the agreement between the two countries and so it shouldn’t have been so difficult.

  4. NHS appointments are a mess. Good ( in a sick way) to know the scots can bollock up their system as much as the English. We register my wife’s mum as temporary when she visits and it’s a right old hassle and she’s a UK resident.
    On the HRA the Tory policy is not to scrap it and leave a void but to replace it with a British Bill of Rights that will contain the self same rights. The difference is it wil be British courts ( and the common law) that is the basis of interpretation and not the Stasbourg court ( and civil law). The idea of the HRA is fine in so far as it goes but grafting a civil law based document into a common law system leads to odd problems of construction. Which has led the British courts to send relevant queers back to Strasbourg which wasn’t the intention of the HRA. So while the Tory do a lot of shit ( for instance the obsession with more anti extremism powers that are undermining civil liberties – not that the Labour Party has a better track record here), this is a classic left wing spoiler frankly. It’s also true that even if it was scrapped and not replaced we are still signatories to the convention of human rights (so complainants can still go to Strasbourg at some cost, part of the reason for the HRA which failed because of the interpretation issues above) and the existing common law rights come back it to effect based on centuries of civil liberties in this country. As for the upper class point.. Yawn. Look at the backgrounds of the current crop of Tories. And I didn’t even vote for them…

    1. Ah, ok. It’s obviously more complicated than I first thought and I must admit I wondered why people were not up in arms about this erosion of human rights but I see now that that is not what this is about.

      1. Sorry for hogging your comments. I’d love to sit down and explain the nuances. It’s complex and to be fair to their critics the current draft the Tories propose is ripe for criticism (which I will). My suspicion is with everything else they have on their plate they will set up a commission and it will disappear for a while, For all its failings around the edges the HRA works ok

  5. No one seems said this explicitly, but I *think* the “problem” with the Human Rights Act is that it is the national implementation of an EU Directive. If (and that’s a big “if”), the UK leaves the EU, then there are a whole long list of Parliamentary Acts that were legislated under EU obligations to implement EU Directives, and there may be an insofar-unmentioned plan to revisit most if not all of these. The question then is whether they will be replaced with “stand alone” UK Acts and if so, what form those might take.

    1. Rebecca,

      The HRA is not mandated by any EU directive as such. Our membership of the EU requires us to be members of the Council of Europe which in turn requires us to be signatories of the ECHR. So if we withdrew from the ECHR (which is a possibility if the government goes ahead) then that could put our EU membership in question (assuming we don’t vote ourselves out in the referendum anyway), so it kind of works the other way round.

  6. Hi Rachel,

    The UK has been bound by the European Convention on Human Rights since it came into effect in 1953, in fact we were instrumental in drafting it. This means that anyone who claims their rights have been breached can take their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and if it rules in their favour the UK Government should take appropriate steps to abide by its ruling.

    The last Labour government brought in the Human Rights Act which incorporates people’s rights under the ECHR into UK law. This means that if people’s rights have been breached they can seek redress in the UK courts, rather than go to Strasbourg (although they ultimately still have that right). Also, the UK government is required to ensure that any new legislation it introduces must be compatible with the ECHR.

    The court in Strasbourg has always been a particular bugbear of Conservatives and the right wing press, partly because they see it as foreign judges meddling in UK law and also because it has been used by people they don’t approve of (the families of IRA members killed by the SAS in Gibraltar being a notable example). Similarly there have been some high profile cases where the HRA or “human rights” in general have supposedly been abused by criminals (especially foreign ones), terrorist suspects, people threatened with deportation and other unworthy individuals. The problem is firstly that a lot of these controversies are based on distortions, exaggerations or outright fabrications (see examples here) and secondly that the whole point of human rights is that they protect all of us, even the worst of us, so the fact that the HRA has been used by such people is not in itself an argument against it.

    So what the government wants to do is bring in a watered down “UK Bill of Rights” which won’t protect the kinds of people mentioned above and so will avoid those kind of politically contentious cases. It’s not some technical exercise simply addressing legal anomalies. People will still ultimately have the right to take their case to Strasbourg (although this is extensive and time consuming) and the likelihood is that this will increase the number of judgements made there against the UK. However, the government is proposing that the UK courts will no longer have to take its judgements into account and this could mean that the proposals lead to us being in breach of our obligations under the ECHR and having to withdraw from it altogether, making us the only country in Europe other than Belarus not signed up to it.

    The government’s proposals are not only illiberal they are legally nonsensical – see here for example.


    1. Thanks, Andrew. I did wonder whether I just wasn’t understanding what was going on here and I see now that this is the case. Thanks for the explanation and the link.

  7. Well said Andrew A. Exceptions make bad law, and the Tories have taken a few exceptions as a hammer to what is a precious egg.

    On GPs. What a lot of people don’t realise is that they are independent contractors, not employees of NHS. So, your experience is with different contractors, not really the NHS per se. The GPs work in antiquated ways that help ensure that we do not have joined up healthcare records. They are often woefully out of date with new advances in medicine, with probably increasingly limited time for continuing training. Most hospitals run a rag bag of cottage industry IT systems (100s of silos of information) that ensure that you end up filling out your same details numerous times, even at the same hospital, and a clinician wanting ‘one view’ of you and your medical history will usually fail. I defend the NHS but some of its practices are antiquated. Unfortunately it is now a kind of sin to perceived as criticising the NHS, when everyone who works in it knows very well it needs changes … just not Mistake #1 the crazy top down reforms that we had … and now Mistake #2, the hardly better system where GPs are commissioning services, yet are not really incentivised to promote a strategic long term approach to improving the health of the nation.

    The NHS is creaking, as we all know. A lot of people are now saying we need to move to a ‘wellness’ patient-centric model, not a NHS primarily designed for chronic care that is clinician-centric … for example:

    “We are currently living in a digitally enabled information generation, and therefore significant technological advancements need to be made in order to meet customer expectations for more convenient, personal and efficient services.
    Patients want more control of their own health and wellbeing, and digital technology has the power to change the relationship between patients and their GP practice by enabling patients to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online, for example.
    The NHS role needs to shift from being an institution focussed on treating chronic conditions, to one that uses data-sharing and analytics, collaboration and digital healthcare practices to deliver predictive and preventative healthcare services.
    Ultimately, this would help move the NHS from an illness to a wellness model. However, it seems that no one, or no political party, is biting the bullet and taking the lead. So how can technology and data be used to help close this funding gap?”


    1. The GPs themselves are always incredibly friendly and knowledgable and seem to be good at their job. It’s getting past the receptionist that’s tricky.

  8. P.S. “Bloody Australians, why don’t you go back to where you came from?” 🙂 x

  9. Unfortunately the human rights act in the UK was already only a watered down version of the the European Convention of Human Rights. It was created just after WWII and took us about 30 years to adopt some of it. Recent aversion to our own act is because the European Court of Human Rights has made it difficult to deal with some terrorist issues. Typically the conservatives would rather take shortcuts than work harder and take responsibility.

    Some of the anti-terrorist laws of a few years ago, resulted in excessive use of stop-and-search and hostile reconnaissance laws (taking a picture). ~ “I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist” :-

    Fortunately the the UK’s National Union of Journalists used the European Court to force Theresa May into issuing a memo of guidelines. It is rather sickening to find the that we need the protection of a European court. Unfortunately when the Conservatives speak about individual rights it is an euphemism for divide and rule.

    Sorry you had difficulties finding medical help for your Dad. I hope he is alright. Your approach to UK bureaucracy was quite right, they get confused if you tell them too much.. Scotland does not have Walk-in Centers but you can call NHS 24 (dial 111) who will advise. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Graham. I think I did try the 111 number and it was just a recorded message and not all that helpful. The system works quite well when you’re registered somewhere but it falls apart when you’re travelling and not near the place you’re registered or a tourist here from somewhere else. Dad is fine and he did get to see someone in the end.

  10. Rachel, I can’t comment not living in the UK but it appears you have struck a sensitive nerve judging from all these insightful comments. Nicely done!

  11. I hadn’t been sure what to think about this, but someone showed me this article against the change http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/13/arguments-human-rights-act-michael-gove-repeal-myth-busting?CMP=share_btn_fb
    and that linked to another for it
    To me, it seems as if the main arguments for the change are based on scaremongering and focusing on a few extreme cases. So I guess I am against the change. It was good to read your post and all the comments that got me thinking, though. Sometimes I can be lazy and get too involved in my own life and not engage with what’s going on around me.

  12. I wasn’t too clear on this Human Rights Bill either Rachel, so I’ve learned a few things here, thank you for bringing it up! My son had the same problem with getting a GP when he visited us in Somerset, and he is registered at our local GP from when he did live here, but they said that because he no longer lives here (he lives in Brighton) he coudln’t get an appointment! He also can’t register in Brighton as he needs a copy of his tenancy agreement with his new address and the tenancy agency are so bleeping useless that they keep forgetting to give him a copy. I’ve told him if he doesn’t have it by the end of the week to let me know and I’ll call them and put a rocket up them. My hubby called to make an appointment today only to be told he couldn’t because their computer screens were blank. Can you believe it? I hope your father is fully recovered by now. I’m so slow at catching up, so I think I’ve missed some news here…hope all is well.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about the problems your son has had getting an appointment. It’s such a shame because once you actually get to see a doctor the system works really well and the doctors all seem very good and really friendly and helpful. I think GPs are aware of this problem as I came across this campaign recently:

      I must admit I find myself dreading ever having to call the medical centre to make an appointment. Fortunately we rarely have to see a doctor.

      1. Thanks Rachel, and for the link too. It is good too that in this country, we can now request to change GP’s without having to give a reason. But it is nice to think that we don’t need a doctor too often…

      2. The GPs are usually really good so changing GPs is not really a good option. It’s getting past the person who guards the appointment book to see the GP that’s the problem.

      3. Yes, GPs generally are very good, but it’s good to know that we now have that option in case not. We didn’t have that option here until fairly recently. It wasn’t until we changed doctors that my daughter was referred for testing for Asperger’s Syndrome. Our ‘old’ doctor wouldn’t refer, not understanding ASD in school-age females (funnily enough, I just wrote about this subject in depth for a blog interview). By the time we had a new doctor who understood, a whole year had gone by before she was referred. And yes, I agree, the appointment system leaves a lot to be desired. Still, we have the NHS here which, after living for 20 years in America, I would never take for granted, even though I do moan about it sometimes 🙂

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