The Big Picture: Health Bar Discrimination

The Disability Rights Commission’s last formal investigation considered the impact of statutory requirements for “good health” in professions.

We analysed the regulations on health in teaching, social work and nursing and the quality of decision-making. We also looked at the issue of disclosure by professionals – whether people declare health conditions or disabilities.

We concluded that regulations requiring people to prove “good health” at various times in their career discriminate unfairly against people who are disabled or have long-term health conditions. They are confusing and drive people “underground”, when in fact they have a right to speak up about what they need and to ask for reasonable adjustments. We also found that the regulations offer little benefit to public safety: if people believe they are screening out unsuitable people, it is likely the regulations offer a false sense of security.

Although there have been some excellent initiatives to welcome disabled people into these professions we believe that these regulations form a barrier.

As a result, particularly of the Shipman inquiry, professional regulation is increasing its reach. Where this means improved monitoring of competence and conduct standards, the DRC agrees that it should. But we believe that now is also the time to abolish the health element of professional regulation.

During our investigation, we came across many disabled people who wanted to work in these professions, precisely because they are services that support and ­improve the lives of others. We believe that if they can meet rigorous professional competence and conduct standards, there should be no bar to their training, qualifying and registering.

But we concluded that health is a matter for employers when considering people for particular roles. To use an example, having a blood-borne virus should not necessarily prevent you training, qualifying or registering as a nurse but is likely to prevent you securing particular jobs that involve working with people with wounds. Rather than make this an issue of registration, we believe it is an issue for employers and professionals to negotiate under the frameworks of competence standards and disability discrimination legislation.

Agnes Fletcher was former director of policy and communications at the Disability Rights Commission. The commission disbanded at the end of September when the Commission for Equality and Human Rights was created

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