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Introduction to the NHS Constitution
The NHS belongs to the people.
It is there to improve our health and wellbeing, supporting us to keep mentally and physically well, to get better when we are ill and, when we cannot fully recover, to stay as well as we can to the end of our lives. It works at the limits of science – bringing the highest levels of human knowledge and skill to save lives and improve health. It touches our lives at times of basic human need, when care and compassion are what matter most.
The NHS is founded on a common set of principles and values that bind together the communities and people it serves – patients and public – and the staff who work for it.
This Constitution establishes the principles and values of the NHS in England. It sets out rights to which patients, public and staff are entitled, and pledges which the NHS is committed to achieve, together with responsibilities, which the public, patients and staff owe to one another to ensure that the NHS operates fairly and effectively. The Secretary of State for Health, all NHS bodies, private and voluntary sector providers supplying NHS services, and local authorities in the exercise of their public health functions are required by law to take account of this Constitution in their decisions and actions. References in this document to the NHS and NHS services include local authority public health services, but references to NHS bodies do not include local authorities. Where there are differences of detail these are explained in the Handbook to the Constitution.
The Constitution will be renewed every 10 years, with the involvement of the public, patients and staff. It is accompanied by the Handbook to the NHS Constitution, to be renewed at least every 3 years, setting out current guidance on the rights, pledges, duties and responsibilities established by the Constitution. These requirements for renewal are legally binding. They guarantee that the principles and values which underpin the NHS are subject to regular review and re-commitment; and that any government which seeks to alter the principles or values of the NHS, or the rights, pledges, duties and responsibilities set out in this Constitution, will have to engage in a full and transparent debate with the public, patients and staff.
Principles that guide the NHS
Seven key principles guide the NHS in all it does. They are underpinned by core NHS values which have been derived from extensive discussions with staff, patients and the public. These values are set out in the next section of this document.
1. The NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all
It is available to all irrespective of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity or marital or civil partnership status. The service is designed to improve, prevent, diagnose and treat both physical and mental health problems with equal regard. It has a duty to each and every individual that it serves and must respect their human rights. At the same time, it has a wider social duty to promote equality through the services it provides and to pay particular attention to groups or sections of society where improvements in health and life expectancy are not keeping pace with the rest of the population.
2. Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay
NHS services are free of charge, except in limited circumstances sanctioned by Parliament.
3. The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism
It provides high quality care that is safe, effective and focused on patient experience; in the people it employs, and in the support, education, training and development they receive; in the leadership and management of its organisations; and through its commitment to innovation and to the promotion, conduct and use of research to improve the current and future health and care of the population. Respect, dignity, compassion and care should be at the core of how patients and staff are treated not only because that is the right thing to do but because patient safety, experience and outcomes are all improved when staff are valued, empowered and supported.
4. The patient will be at the heart of everything the NHS does
It should support individuals to promote and manage their own health. NHS services must reflect, and should be coordinated around and tailored to, the needs and preferences of patients, their families and their carers. As part of this, the NHS will ensure that in line with the Armed Forces Covenant, those in the armed forces, reservists, their families and veterans are not disadvantaged in accessing health services in the area they reside. Patients, with their families and carers, where appropriate, will be involved in and consulted on all decisions about their care and treatment. The NHS will actively encourage feedback from the public, patients and staff, welcome it and use it to improve its services.
5. The NHS works across organisational boundaries
It works in partnership with other organisations in the interest of patients, local communities and the wider population. The NHS is an integrated system of organisations and services bound together by the principles and values reflected in the Constitution. The NHS is committed to working jointly with other local authority services, other public sector organisations and a wide range of private and voluntary sector organisations to provide and deliver improvements in health and wellbeing.
6. The NHS is committed to providing best value for taxpayers’ money
It is committed to providing the most effective, fair and sustainable use of finite resources. Public funds for healthcare will be devoted solely to the benefit of the people that the NHS serves.
7. The NHS is accountable to the public, communities and patients that it serves
The NHS is a national service funded through national taxation, and it is the government which sets the framework for the NHS and which is accountable to Parliament for its operation. However, most decisions in the NHS, especially those about the treatment of individuals and the detailed organisation of services, are rightly taken by the local NHS and by patients with their clinicians. The system of responsibility and accountability for taking decisions in the NHS should be transparent and clear to the public, patients and staff. The government will ensure that there is always a clear and up-to-date statement of NHS accountability for this purpose.
Patients, public and staff have helped develop this expression of values that inspire passion in the NHS and that should underpin everything it does. Individual organisations will develop and build upon these values, tailoring them to their local needs. The NHS values provide common ground for co-operation to achieve shared aspirations, at all levels of the NHS.
Working together for patients
Patients come first in everything we do. We fully involve patients, staff, families, carers, communities, and professionals inside and outside the NHS. We put the needs of patients and communities before organisational boundaries. We speak up when things go wrong.
Respect and dignity
We value every person – whether patient, their families or carers, or staff – as an individual, respect their aspirations and commitments in life, and seek to understand their priorities, needs, abilities and limits. We take what others have to say seriously. We are honest and open about our point of view and what we can and cannot do.
Commitment to quality of care
We earn the trust placed in us by insisting on quality and striving to get the basics of quality of care – safety, effectiveness and patient experience – right every time. We encourage and welcome feedback from patients, families, carers, staff and the public. We use this to improve the care we provide and build on our successes.
We ensure that compassion is central to the care we provide and respond with humanity and kindness to each person’s pain, distress, anxiety or need. We search for the things we can do, however small, to give comfort and relieve suffering. We find time for patients, their families and carers, as well as those we work alongside. We do not wait to be asked, because we care.
We strive to improve health and wellbeing and people’s experiences of the NHS. We cherish excellence and professionalism wherever we find it – in the everyday things that make people’s lives better as much as in clinical practice, service improvements and innovation. We recognise that all have a part to play in making ourselves, patients and our communities healthier.
We maximise our resources for the benefit of the whole community, and make sure nobody is excluded, discriminated against or left behind. We accept that some people need more help, that difficult decisions have to be taken – and that when we waste resources we waste opportunities for others.
Patients and the public: your rights and the 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 receive care and treatment that is appropriate to you, meets your needs and reflects your preferences.
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 pledges to:
- provide convenient, easy access to services within the waiting times set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution
- make decisions in a clear and transparent way, so that patients and the public can understand how services are planned and delivered
- 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
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 be cared for in a clean, safe, secure and suitable environment.
You have the right to receive suitable and nutritious food and hydration to sustain good health and wellbeing.
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 pledges to identify and share best practice in quality of care and treatments.
Nationally approved treatments, drugs and programmes
You have the right to drugs and treatments that have been recommended by NICE 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.
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 be protected from abuse and neglect, and care and treatment that is degrading.
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 pledges:
- to ensure those involved in your care and treatment have access to your health information so they can care for you safely and effectively
- 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
- to anonymise the information collected during the course of your treatment and use it to support research and improve care for others
- where identifiable information has to be used, to give you the chance to object wherever possible
- to inform you of research studies in which you may be eligible to participate
- to share with you any correspondence sent between clinicians about your care
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 transparent, accessible and comparable data on the quality of local healthcare providers, and on outcomes, as compared to others nationally.
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 pledges to:
- inform you about the healthcare services available to you, locally and nationally
- 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
Involvement in your healthcare and the NHS
You have the right to be involved in planning and making decisions about your health and care with your care provider or providers, including your end of life care, and to be given information and support to enable you to do this. Where appropriate, this right includes your family and carers. This includes being given the chance to manage your own care and treatment, if appropriate.
You have the right to an open and transparent relationship with the organisation providing your care. You must be told about any safety incident relating to your care which, in the opinion of a healthcare professional, has caused, or could still cause, significant harm or death. You must be given the facts, an apology, and any reasonable support you need.
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 pledges to:
- provide you with the information and support you need to influence and scrutinise the planning and delivery of NHS services
- work in partnership with you, your family, carers and representatives
- involve you in discussions about planning your care and to offer you a written record of what is agreed if you want one
- encourage and welcome feedback on your health and care experiences and use this to improve services
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 pledges 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
- 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
- ensure that the organisation learns lessons from complaints and claims and uses these to improve NHS services
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.
Staff: your rights and NHS pledges to you
It is the commitment, professionalism and dedication of staff working for the benefit of the people the NHS serves which really make the difference. High-quality care requires high-quality workplaces, with commissioners and providers aiming to be employers of choice.
All staff should have rewarding and worthwhile jobs, with the freedom and confidence to act in the interest of patients. To do this, they need to be trusted, actively listened to and provided with meaningful feedback. They must be treated with respect at work, have the tools, training and support to deliver compassionate care, and opportunities to develop and progress. Care professionals should be supported to maximise the time they spend directly contributing to the care of patients.
The Constitution applies to all staff, doing clinical or non-clinical NHS work – including public health – and their employers. It covers staff wherever they are working, whether in public, private or voluntary sector organisations.
Staff have extensive legal rights, embodied in general employment and discrimination law. These are summarised in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution. In addition, individual contracts of employment contain terms and conditions giving staff further rights.
The rights are there to help ensure that staff:
- have a good working environment with flexible working opportunities, consistent with the needs of patients and with the way that people live their lives
- have a fair pay and contract framework
- can be involved and represented in the workplace
- have healthy and safe working conditions and an environment free from harassment, bullying or violence
- are treated fairly, equally and free from discrimination
- can in certain circumstances take a complaint about their employer to an Employment Tribunal
- can raise any concern with their employer, whether it is about safety, malpractice or other risk, in the public interest.
In addition to these legal rights, there are a number of pledges, which the NHS is committed to achieve. Pledges go above and beyond your legal rights. This means that they are not legally binding but represent a commitment by the NHS to provide high-quality working environments for staff.
The NHS pledges to:
- provide a positive working environment for staff and to promote supportive, open cultures that help staff do their job to the best of their ability
- provide all staff with clear roles and responsibilities and rewarding jobs for teams and individuals that make a difference to patients, their families and carers and communities
- provide all staff with personal development, access to appropriate education and training for their jobs, and line management support to enable them to fulfil their potential
- provide support and opportunities for staff to maintain their health, wellbeing and safety
- engage staff in decisions that affect them and the services they provide, individually, through representative organisations and through local partnership working arrangements. All staff will be empowered to put forward ways to deliver better and safer services for patients and their families (pledge)
- to have a process for staff to raise an internal grievance (pledge)
- encourage and support all staff in raising concerns at the earliest reasonable opportunity about safety, malpractice or wrongdoing at work, responding to and, where necessary, investigating the concerns raised and acting consistently with the Employment Rights Act 1996
Staff: your responsibilities
All staff have responsibilities to the public, their patients and colleagues.
Important legal duties are summarised below.
You have a duty to accept professional accountability and maintain the standards of professional practice as set by the appropriate regulatory body applicable to your profession or role.
You have a duty to take reasonable care of health and safety at work for you, your team and others, and to co-operate with employers to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements.
You have a duty to act in accordance with the express and implied terms of your contract of employment.
You have a duty not to discriminate against patients or staff and to adhere to equal opportunities and equality and human rights legislation.
You have a duty to protect the confidentiality of personal information that you hold.
You have a duty to be honest and truthful in applying for a job and in carrying out that job.
The Constitution also includes expectations that reflect how staff should play their part in ensuring the success of the NHS and delivering high-quality care.
You should aim to:
- provide all patients with safe care, and to do all you can to protect patients from avoidable harm
- follow all guidance, standards and codes relevant to your role, subject to any more specific requirements of your employers
- maintain the highest standards of care and service, treating every individual with compassion, dignity and respect, taking responsibility not only for the care you personally provide, but also for your wider contribution to the aims of your team and the NHS as a whole
- find alternative sources of care or assistance for patients, when you are unable to provide this (including for those patients who are not receiving basic care to meet their needs)
- take up training and development opportunities provided over and above those legally required of your post
- play your part in sustainably improving services by working in partnership with patients, the public and communities
- raise any genuine concern you may have about a risk, malpractice or wrongdoing at work (such as a risk to patient safety, fraud or breaches of patient confidentiality), which may affect patients, the public, other staff or the organisation itself, at the earliest reasonable opportunity
- involve patients, their families, carers or representatives fully in decisions about prevention, diagnosis, and their individual care and treatment
- be open with patients, their families, carers or representatives, including if anything goes wrong; welcoming and listening to feedback and addressing concerns promptly and in a spirit of co-operation
- contribute to a climate where the truth can be heard, the reporting of, and learning from, errors is encouraged and colleagues are supported where errors are made
- view the services you provide from the standpoint of a patient, and involve patients, their families and carers in the services you provide, working with them, their communities and other organisations, and making it clear who is responsible for their care
- take every appropriate opportunity to encourage and support patients and colleagues to improve their health and wellbeing
- contribute towards providing fair and equitable services for all and play your part, wherever possible, in helping to reduce inequalities in experience, access or outcomes between differing groups or sections of society requiring health care
- inform patients about the use of their confidential information and to record their objections, consent or dissent
- provide access to a patient’s information to other relevant professionals, always doing so securely, and only where there is a legal and appropriate basis to do so.