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Constitution “a momentous point in the history of the NHS”

30 June 2008

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A draft NHS Constitution outlining the principles and values of the NHS for the future was published today (30 June 2008) for consultation by Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

The first of its kind in the world, the constitution reaffirms the rights to NHS services, free-of-charge without discrimination. It is designed to clarify for staff and patients their rights and responsibilities to ensure the NHS operates fairly and effectively.

A new legal duty will be placed on all NHS organisations to take account of the constitution in decisions made.

Mr Johnson (pictured) said: “This is a momentous point in the history of the NHS. The content of the constitution was not dreamt up by me or civil servants in Whitehall. It is something that has arisen out of discussions with thousands of NHS staff and patients across the country.

He added: “What we have come up with is not set in stone but is a good basis for further consultation. I think it strikes the right balance between the need for clarity and avoiding undue litigation, between the need to state what is enduring while ensuring the NHS has the flexibility to change and keep pace with rising expectations and medical advances.”

Patient rights contained in the new NHS constitution include:

  • The right to drugs and treatments approved by NICE for use in the NHS if clinically appropriate.
  • The right to make defined choices about NHS care with clear options – this includes the right to choose your GP practice and express a preference for consulting a particular doctor.
  • The right to complaint and redress. The constitution sets out a number of rights and pledges to ensure patients and the public are able to make complaints and get access to swift redress if they are unhappy with their healthcare.

In addition, patients will also be expected to contribute to their own good health and take some personal responsibility. Patients will also be expected to register with a GP and keep appointments, or cancel within a reasonable time.

David Nicholson, NHS Chief Executive, said the constitution “pulls together in one place what the patients who use the NHS, the public who fund it and the staff who provide it can expect to receive from the NHS, and the contribution they can make themselves.

“The draft constitution will be a powerful driver of change in the system and will help us to deliver care fit for the 21st century,” he added.

Steve Field, President of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The new NHS Constitution embodies the strong feelings and values I had then – and that I still have today. It strengthens the foundations on which the NHS is built and strongly articulates what the NHS stands for in the 21st century.

“The Constitution sets out patients’ rights and responsibilities in a clear way for the first time and it is very welcome. It is something to which all GPs, their practice teams and NHS staff can commit and have confidence in to improve standards and care for all our patients.”

Dr Hamish Meldrum, British Medical Association Chairman, said: “An NHS constitution is something that the BMA has called for, and the public deserves a clearer idea of what it can expect from the health service it funds.

“The constitution should also empower staff, working with patients, to run the health service locally without the day-to-day interference of politicians.”

Sally Brearley, of the Patients Association, said: ” I think this will be a valuable and powerful document in the hands of patients to help them get the best quality care.”

The government will be obliged by law to renew the NHS constitution every 10 years so that any changes are the result of a full and transparent debate and cannot be changed by stealth.

Department of Health