The Equality Act 2010 replaces previous anti-discrimination laws by introducing a single Act. The only previous equalities-related legislation that was not replaced by the Equality Act 2010 is the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Race and Religious Hatred Act 2008. The Act legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and the wider society such as patients and service users in care.

Under the Act it is illegal to discriminate someone because of the following. These are called ‘protected characteristics’:

  • Age
  • Being or becoming a transsexual person
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Disability
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • Religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation.

You are protected from discrimination in many circumstances. This includes when using public services such as the NHS and whilst at work.

The Equality Act 2010 requires NHS organisations to meet the following three aims and have ‘due regard’ to them. This is called the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED):

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited under the Act
  • Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
  • Foster good relations between persons who share relevant protected characteristics and persons who do not share it.

Having due regard means that consideration of equality issues must influence the decisions reached by NHS trusts, such as:

  • How they act as employers
  • How they develop, evaluate and review policy
  • How they design, deliver and evaluate services
  • How they commission and procure from others.
  • The specific equality duties.

To help public bodies perform PSEDs effectively, regulations introduced two specific duties. The duties mean that NHS organisations are required to:

  • Publish information to demonstrate compliance with the PSED at least annually starting from 31 January 2012
  • Prepare and publish equality objectives at least every four years starting from 6 April 2012
  • Publish advice, guidance and useful documents.