All National Health Service (NHS) organisations must now comply with the rules and pledges enshrined in its new Constitution.
The NHS Constitution, established as a result of the Health Act 2009, sets out patients' rights and, its proponents argue, "safeguards the NHS for the future."
Among other things, the Constitution gives patients the legal rights to:
- access NHS services;
- drugs and treatments approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE);
- choice about where they receive their care; &
- be treated with dignity and respect.
Health Secretary Andy Burnham said:
"This landmark document gives patients and staff real power to know what they can expect and what they can demand - demands that cannot go unchecked by the NHS.
"As the NHS continues to improve, so will its Constitution - we are already proposing to lock in progress with new rights on waiting times for elective treatments and cancer, and to make the NHS more preventative by giving those most at risk the right to a comprehensive NHS Health Check every five years.
"As the NHS strives to move from good to great and become more people-centred, all the improvements it makes can be safeguarded for future generations."
As well as patients, the Constitution also ensures that the NHS provides a high-quality working environment for its 1.3 million staff. It brings together their legal rights, and pledges to provide staff with rewarding jobs that make a difference to patients and communities, support and opportunities to maintain their own health and well-being and the opportunity to give their view on decisions that affect them and the services they provide.
The current NHS Constitution and consultation on proposed new patient rights can be found on the Department of Health website.
The consultation, which is due to close on 5 February 2010, covers a number of new patient rights, including:
- the legal right to start treatment by a consultant within 18 weeks of GP referral;
- the legal right to be seen by a cancer specialist within 2 weeks of GP referral;
- the legal right for everyone between 40 and 74 to have an NHS Health Check every five years to assess their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease;
- the legal right to access to NHS dentistry;
- the legal right to choose to die at home;
- personal health budgets; &
- the right to key diagnostic tests for suspected cancer patients within one week of seeing a GP, with an interim milestone of 2 weeks.