23 January 2009
60 years on from the foundation of the National Health Service, the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, yesterday launched a Constitution, which has been heralded as ‘a bill of rights’ for healthcare.
The new NHS Constitution
is a legally binding document, which sets out the rights and responsibilities of NHS bodies, private healthcare providers as well as third sector providers (such as charity run hospices). It is also a statement of the rights of patients together with their responsibilities as healthcare users.
If effective, it will mark an important positive step towards better healthcare and the promotion of patients’ rights and patients’ safety.
The Constitution gives patients the right to be involved and make choices about the care that they receive within the NHS and to have access to the information to allow them to make such decisions.
The right to NHS treatment is enhanced by the pledge to allow access to services based on clinical need and also a promise that patients will not be refused access on unreasonable grounds. In certain circumstances, patients will now also be allowed to go to other European Economic Area countries or Switzerland to receive treatment not available in the UK.
The Constitution includes new legal rights in respect of medication. Patients now have the right to receive vaccinations that the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations recommends. In addition there is explicit entitlement to drugs and treatments recommended by NICE for use in the NHS and a right for the funding decisions at a local level on other drugs and treatments to be made rationally.
Patients in return must take responsibility for the success of their own health by taking reasonable care of themselves, registering with a GP, keeping appointments, treating NHS staff with respect and following the agreed course of treatment.
The seven principles of the Constitution which purport to underpin the core NHS values offer an optimistic, but hopefully an achievable, vision of the NHS as a free of charge, publically accountable comprehensive service, that is patient focused and which guarantees a high standard of good value care to meet individual patients’ needs without discrimination.
The potential of this document in improving NHS care is evident.
, head of the specialist clinical negligence department at law firm Leigh Day & Co welcomes the new NHS Constitution. He says:
"The government’s intention to give patients more choice and greater control over the care that they receive and as well as their aim to improve the overall quality of health services is very welcome. Whether this document will make a significant improvement in the way patients are treated remains to be seen."
Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.