The NHS Constitution is a document that is often overlooked by the general public, but many experts believe that it should be considered the centrepiece of the health service.
Perhaps most notable for the very first words of the documents, namely that the NHS “belongs to us all”, the Constitution sets out seven key principles that underpin the values of the NHS.
The document states that all NHS consumers have legal rights, and pledges explicitly to the public that these go above and beyond normal legal rights.
Essentially, the Constitution is a document of values; a statement of intent for the NHS as a whole.
Some of the most important ethics of the health service are enshrined in the Constitution, including the right to receive care and treatment which is appropriate to you, which meets your needs and reflects your preferences.
And the Constitution pledges “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”.
The use of the word “appropriate” indicates that the standard of healthcare is not intended to be merely universal, but also specific to any NHS consumer’s individual circumstances.
Several important principles are outlined in the NHS Constitution, but possibly the most important is that the patient will be placed at the heart of everything that the NHS carries out.
“NHS services must reflect, and should be co-ordinated around and tailored to, the needs and preferences of patients, their families and their carers 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 (adds the most recent revision) this right includes your family and carers.”
This document was recently revised in October 2015, to reflect the importance of family and carers as a support network.
The Constitution is intended to “empower patients and their families by providing them with up to date information about their legal rights”.
In the context of the current challenges that the NHS is facing, and a government policy that may disagree with, it is important for both health professionals and NHS consumers to be aware of this document.
Research has indicated that just under one-in-four people in the UK actually realise that the NHS Constitution exists, and all NHS workers can play a role in making people aware of the document going forward.
The Constitution was instigated in order to concretise certain principles, and many believe that it is absolutely essential in the existing climate.