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NHS Constitution

Patients and the public – your rights and NHS pledges to you

Everyone who uses the NHS should understand what legal rights they have. For this reason, important legal rights are summarised in this Constitution and explained in more detail in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution, which also explains what you can do if you think you have not received what is rightfully yours. This summary does not alter your legal rights. The Constitution also contains pledges that the NHS is committed to achieve. Pledges go above and beyond legal rights. This means that pledges are not legally binding but represent a commitment by the NHS to provide comprehensive high quality services.

Access to health services:

You have the right to receive NHS services free of charge, apart from certain limited exceptions sanctioned by Parliament.

You have the right to access NHS services. You will not be refused access on unreasonable grounds.

You have the right to expect your NHS to assess the health requirements of your community and to commission and put in place the services to meet those needs as considered necessary, and in the case of public health services commissioned by local authorities, to take steps to improve the health of the local community.

You have the right, in certain circumstances, to go to other European Economic Area countries or Switzerland for treatment which would be available to you through your NHS commissioner.

You have the right not to be unlawfully discriminated against in the provision of NHS services including on grounds of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity or marital or civil partnership status.

You have the right to access certain services commissioned by NHS bodies within maximum waiting times, or for the NHS to take all reasonable steps to offer you a range of suitable alternative providers if this is not possible. The waiting times are described in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution.

The NHS also commits:

to provide convenient, easy access to services within the waiting times set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution (pledge);

to make decisions in a clear and transparent way, so that patients and the public can understand how services are planned and delivered (pledge); and to make the transition as smooth as possible when you are referred between services, and to put you, your family and carers at the centre of decisions that affect you or them (pledge).

Quality of care and environment:

You have the right to be treated with a professional standard of care, by appropriately qualified and experienced staff, in a properly approved or registered organisation that meets required levels of safety and quality.

You have the right to expect NHS bodies to monitor, and make efforts to improve continuously, the quality of healthcare they commission or provide. This includes improvements to the safety, effectiveness and experience of services.

The NHS also commits:

to ensure that services are provided in a clean and safe environment that is fit for purpose, based on national best practice (pledge);

to identify and share best practice in quality of care and treatments (pledge); and

that if you are admitted to hospital, you will not have to share sleeping accommodation with patients of the opposite sex, except where appropriate, in line with details set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution (pledge).

Nationally approved treatments, drugs and programmes:

You have the right to drugs and treatments that have been recommended by NICE1 for use in the NHS, if your doctor says they are clinically appropriate for you.

You have the right to expect local decisions on funding of other drugs and treatments to be made rationally following a proper consideration of the evidence. If the local NHS decides not to fund a drug or treatment you and your doctor feel would be right for you, they will explain that decision to you.

You have the right to receive the vaccinations that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and immunisation recommends that you should receive under an NHS-provided national immunisation programme.

The NHS also commits:

to provide screening programmes as recommended by the UK National Screening Committee (pledge).

Respect, consent and confidentiality:

You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with your human rights.

You have the right to accept or refuse treatment that is offered to you, and not to be given any physical examination or treatment unless you have given valid consent. If you do not have the capacity to do so, consent must be obtained from a person legally able to act on your behalf, or the treatment must be in your best interests.

You have the right to be given information about the test and treatment options available to you, what they involve and their risks and benefits.

You have the right of access to your own health records and to have any factual inaccuracies corrected.

You have the right to privacy and confidentiality and to expect the NHS to keep your confidential information safe and secure.

You have the right to be informed about how your information is used.

You have the right to request that your confidential information is not used beyond your own care and treatment and to have your objections considered, and where your wishes cannot be followed, to be told the reasons including the legal basis.

The NHS also commits:

to ensure those involved in your care and treatment have access to your health information so they can care for you safely and effectively (pledge);

to anonymise the information collected during the course of your treatment and use it to support research and improve care for others (pledge);

where identifiable information has to be used, to give you the chance to object wherever possible (pledge);

to inform you of research studies in which you may be eligible to participate (pledge); and
to share with you any correspondence sent between clinicians about your care (pledge).

Informed choice:

You have the right to choose your GP practice, and to be accepted by that practice unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse, in which case you will be informed of those reasons.

You have the right to express a preference for using a particular doctor within your GP practice, and for the practice to try to comply.

You have the right to make choices about the services commissioned by NHS bodies and to information to support these choices. The options available to you will develop over time and depend on your individual needs. Details are set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution.

The NHS also commits:

to inform you about the healthcare services available to you, locally and nationally (pledge); and
to offer you easily accessible, reliable and relevant information in a form you can understand, and support to use it. This will enable you to participate fully in your own healthcare decisions and to support you in making choices. This will include information on the range and quality of clinical services where there is robust and accurate information available (pledge).

Involvement in your healthcare and in the NHS:

You have the right to be involved in discussions and decisions about your health and care, including your end of life care, and to be given information to enable you to do this. Where appropriate this right includes your family and carers.

You have the right to be involved, directly or through representatives, in the planning of healthcare services commissioned by NHS bodies, the development and consideration of proposals for changes in the way those services are provided, and in decisions to be made affecting the operation of those services.

The NHS also commits:

to provide you with the information and support you need to influence and scrutinise the planning and delivery of NHS services (pledge);

to work in partnership with you, your family, carers and representatives (pledge);
to involve you in discussions about planning your care and to offer you a written record of what is agreed if you want one (pledge); and

to encourage and welcome feedback on your health and care experiences and use this to improve services (pledge).

Complaint and redress:

You have the right to have any complaint you make about NHS services acknowledged within three working days and to have it properly investigated.

You have the right to discuss the manner in which the complaint is to be handled, and to know the period within which the investigation is likely to be completed and the response sent.

You have the right to be kept informed of progress and to know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint, including an explanation of the conclusions and confirmation that any action needed in consequence of the complaint has been taken or is proposed to be taken.

You have the right to take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman or Local Government Ombudsman, if you are not satisfied with the way your complaint has been dealt with by the NHS.

You have the right to make a claim for judicial review if you think you have been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body or local authority.

You have the right to compensation where you have been harmed by negligent treatment.

The NHS also commits:

to ensure that you are treated with courtesy and you receive appropriate support throughout the handling of a complaint; and that the fact that you have complained will not adversely affect your future treatment (pledge);

to ensure that when mistakes happen or if you are harmed while receiving health care you receive an appropriate explanation and apology, delivered with sensitivity and recognition of the trauma you have experienced, and know that lessons will be learned to help avoid a similar incident occurring again (pledge); and

to ensure that the organisation learns lessons from complaints and claims and uses these to improve NHS services (pledge).

Patients and the public – your responsibilities

The NHS belongs to all of us. There are things that we can all do for ourselves and for one another to help it work effectively, and to ensure resources are used responsibly.

Please recognise that you can make a significant contribution to your own, and your family’s, good health and wellbeing, and take personal responsibility for it.

Please register with a GP practice

the main point of access to NHS care as commissioned by NHS bodies.

Please treat NHS staff and other patients with respect and recognise that violence or the causing of nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises could result in prosecution. You should recognise that abusive and violent behaviour could result in you being refused access to NHS services.

Please provide accurate information about your health, condition and status.

Please keep appointments, or cancel within reasonable time. Receiving treatment within the maximum waiting times may be compromised unless you do.

Please follow the course of treatment which you have agreed, and talk to your Clinician if you find this difficult.

Please participate in important public health programmes such as vaccination.

Please ensure that those closest to you are aware of your wishes about organ donation.

Please give feedback – both positive and negative – about your experiences and the treatment and care you have received, including any adverse reactions you may have had. You can often provide feedback anonymously and giving feedback will not affect adversely your care or how you are treated. If a family member or someone you are a Carer for is a patient and unable to provide feedback, you are encouraged to give feedback about their experiences on their behalf. Feedback will help to improve NHS services for all.

Click here to download the NHS Constitution (PDF, 65KB)

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