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Department of Health announces draft NHS constitution

The Department of Health has unveiled a draft constitution, the first of its kind in the world, that 'enshrines' the principles and values of the NHS

The Department of Health (DH) has unveiled a draft constitution, the first of its kind in the world, that 'enshrines' the principles and values of the NHS, an institution which it refers to as being too important to be left to chance.

It follows a year of discussion, debate and consultation with patients, staff and the public, and was published on June 30, 2008, by the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson. A key feature of the draft constitution is that it reaffirms a patient's right to free treatment with the NHS without any discrimination. According to the DH, the documents will consolidate and clarify staff and patients' rights and responsibilities to ensure the NHS is fairly and effectively operated.

The government will now be obliged by law to renew the NHS constitution every 10 years and will have to go through a similar process of national discussion and consultation to ensure changes are the result of transparent debate. All NHS service providers will be legally required to ensure that the constitution is taken into account during any decision-making.

The new report by Lord Darzi sets out how the NHS will give patients more information and choice by:
  • Putting privacy, dignity and cleanliness at the heart of care with more powers to tackle, for example, healthcare infections. Hospitals will be provided with checklists to reduce catheter-induced infections
  • Measuring the quality of care and treatment outcomes across the service
  • Faster NICE approval process and more transparent decision making to get more effective drugs to patients with new rights to all NICE approved drugs
  • A patients' legal right to choose any healthcare provider, including choice of GP services
  • 5000 patients with long-term, complex conditions will pilot new personal budgets
  • Providing personal care plans for all patients with long-term, complex conditions.

    The NHS will also help people stay healthy, as well as treating them when they are sick, by:
  • Investing record amounts in improved wellbeing and prevention services that are easy to access
  • Launching a 'Reduce your Risk' campaign to push more 40 to 74-year-olds into getting free vascular checks and to help people know when they need to get help
  • Piloting new approaches to help family doctors, community nurses, hospitals, local authorities and others work across traditional boundaries to provide more joined-up services and better health outcomes for people with conditions such as diabetes.
    The NHS will also enable frontline staff to initiate and lead change that improves quality of care for patients by:
  • No additional top-down targets beyond minimum standards. Quality of care will take precedence over the setting of targets
  • Every provider of NHS services will need to systematically measure, analyse and improve quality, displaying it to staff through ëclinical dashboards' to measure their performance and use the information to make continuous improvements
  • A clinical voice at every level ñ to ensure decisions are based on the best medical evidence
  • Enhancing professionalism and investing in programmes of clinical leadership, with all clinicians being encouraged to be practitioners, partners and leaders in the NHS.

    And NHS staff will be fully supported by:
  • Establishing NHS Medical Education England ñ an independent advisory non-departmental body that will scrutinise workforce-planning proposals for doctors and dentists.
  • Tripling foundation periods for nurses and establishing preceptorhips for newly qualified nurses giving them a protected probationary period and support
  • A new tariff-based system for education funding.

    Johnson said that the draft constitution, not a finalised version, is a good basis for further consultation and that it could strike the right balance between the need for clarity and curtailing litigious action against the NHS. He also said that it maintains a balance between the enduring, founding principles of the NHS and the Service's ability to adapt and change ñ to keep pace with advances in medicine, medical technology and rising expectations.

    "As the draft constitution states at the outset, the NHS belongs to the people," he said. "I would therefore urge everyone with an interest in preserving what's best about the NHS, as well as ensuring that it is fit for the future, to participate in the consultation and tell us what they think."

  • 30th June 2008

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