Healthcare inquiry report: NIHRC responds


I would like the opportunity to respond to the recent Morning View on the commission’s inquiry report into emergency healthcare in Northern Ireland.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.

“Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

This is what lies behind the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into healthcare in emergency departments.

The importance of human rights is most obvious when we are at our most vulnerable.

With over 700,000 total attendances at emergency departments each year, almost everyone in Northern Ireland will have visited or known someone who has needed to use accident and emergency services.

Public participation was at the centre of this inquiry and throughout we heard from patients, families, staff, management and the department. That is what made our inquiry unique from any other report to date. The depth and richness of the report stems from the evidence we heard and all of the evidence can be viewed on our website

We visited emergency departments throughout Northern Ireland during the day and night.

We heard from dedicated staff striving to maintain patient dignity in an often challenging and crowded environment.

The commission heard individual cases which amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment but did not discover evidence of systemic violations of human rights.

The inquiry also heard of good practices and experiences.

Often the introduction of relatively simple measures, such as housekeepers to check water and medication are supplied regularly, significantly improved the human rights of patients.

Such approaches have been introduced with modest costs and there is a clear need to share good practices throughout hospitals across Northern Ireland on a more structured basis.

In total our report made over 100 findings and 26 recommendations.

The report demonstrates how human rights can make a valuable contribution to improving policy and practice while ensuring the human rights of everyone are better protected.

Les Allamby,

Chief Commissioner,
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission