On 30 June 2008, the Secretary of State issued an initial draft of a constitution for the NHS (the Constitution) for consultation. The Constitution sets out the rights and responsibilities of NHS staff and patients, with an aim to protect the principles of the NHS against future changes that could have a detrimental impact.
While protecting the fundamental principles of the NHS, the Constitution has also been designed to take into account the need for the NHS to evolve. It contains assurances as to how the NHS will strive to go beyond the stated rights, with the intention that the Constitution will be renewed every ten years to take into account these changes.
The Constitution has been developed as a result of discussions with members of the NHS and the general public over the past year. The rights it enshrines include the right to NHS services free of charge, the right to drugs and treatments approved by NICE for use if clinically appropriate and the right to complain and obtain redress. It also sets out pledges and guidance as to the rights of NHS employees.
The Constitution will be a declaratory document and its contents will not be passed into legislation, save for the right to choose, which it is intended will be put into law separately.
However, it is intended that the forthcoming NHS reform Bill will contain a legal duty to be placed on NHS bodies to take into account the Constitution when performing their functions as well as placing a duty on the Secretary of State to renew the Constitution every ten years.
The consultation period will end on 17 October 2008 and can be accessed at http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Consultations/Liveconsultations/DH_085812