The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has published a report on the effect of the NHS constitution on patients, staff, carers and members of the public. The report, published in part to comply with the Secretary of State’s duty under the Health Act 2009, has been informed by the work and conclusions of the NHS Future Forum, chaired by Professor Steve Field.

The Forum has looked back over the first three years of the constitution’s operation. Regrettably, it concludes that public awareness of the constitution remains low and there is, not surprisingly therefore, little evidence that patients use it as a means of exercising their rights. Staff awareness of the constitution is significantly higher although few feel well informed about it. In principle support from staff and public demonstrates support for the central tenets of the NHS it enshrines.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 has strengthened the legal foundation for the constitution and it is hoped that this will play a critical role in raising awareness in the future and embedding the constitution throughout the NHS. Part of the tenth objective in the draft mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board (the Board), is to uphold and, where possible, improve performance on the rights and pledges for patients in the NHS constitution, including rights to access services within certain maximum waiting times and rights to drugs and treatments recommended by NICE. The mandate therefore provides an opportunity for the Board to be held to account for ensuring delivery on patients’ rights and pledges as set out in the constitution, while both the Board and Clinical Commissioning Groups will have a legal duty to act with a view to ensuring that heath services are provided in a way which promotes the constitution and to promote awareness of it amongst staff and public.

The Future Forum will now consider how the constitution can be strengthened and reinforced for the future. It will present its advice to the Government in the autumn and there will then be a public consultation on any proposed changes.