Consultation into New legal rights for NHS patients


A consultation has been launched on legal rights to waiting times and NHS health checks for patients.

If today’s published proposals are taken forward Patients will have legal rights to maximum waiting times for elective procedures and urgent cancer referrals and to an NHS Health Check every five years for those aged 40-74.

The proposals, set out in ‘The NHS Constitution: A consultation on new patient rights‘, will mean that from 1 April 2010, patients will have the legal right to maximum waiting times to start treatment by a consultant within 18 weeks of GP referral, and to be seen by a cancer specialist within 2 weeks of GP referral.

If the NHS is unable to meet this commitment, it will be required to take all reasonable steps to find a range of alternative providers. The alternatives could include private healthcare providers at NHS prices.

In addition, everyone aged 40-74 will have the right to an NHS Health Check every five years to assess their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.  By identifying these health risks early the NHS should be able to reduce these diseases and the associated complications.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

'None of us can ever know what's around the corner and it's one of the best things about being British that the NHS will be there for us whatever happens. My own parents could never have afforded all the surgery needed to save my sight if they'd had to pay, and every day I hear from people whose lives have been saved or transformed by the NHS. Today we're reforming the NHS to secure its future – ensuring that patients get a guarantee not a gamble by empowering them with new legal rights.

'These measures build on the high standards and rightly rising expectations of patient care. Every single person who has to go into hospital or go through the difficulty of cancer will have clear rights and real power guaranteeing them quick access to care, or the offer of going private or to another NHS provider if these standards are not met.'

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said:

'The NHS Constitution lets people know what they can expect and what they can demand. But, like the NHS, the Constitution must evolve if it is to remain relevant.

'Waiting times are the shortest they have ever been but I want to build on this and give patients a legal right to maximum waiting times. Turning targets into legal rights will empower patients and guarantee them the same high standards of care, regardless of where they live.

'In the next decade, the NHS must make a decisive move towards being a more preventative service and a more people centred service. So I want to give all patients aged 40-74 the legal right to have an NHS Health Check every five years. And we’re also seeking views on whether there should be a legal right in future to choose to die at home and to personal health budgets to give people power over their own care.

'A decade of investment and reform has seen the NHS go from poor to good. Now, in striving to move from good to great we need to take a new approach – less about central targets, more about rights and entitlements. These proposals will mean that patient rights, enshrined in the NHS Constitution, will safeguard the NHS for the future.'

The consultation also seeks views on further patient rights including:

  • the right to choose to die at home
  • the right to access NHS dentistry
  • the right to personal health budgets
  • the right to choose a GP practice offering extended access to evening and weekend appointments
  • the right to key diagnostic tests for suspected cancer patients within one week of seeing a GP, with an interim milestone of 2 weeks.

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