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UK to amend and strengthen NHS constitution

Includes measures to involve patients in end-of-life care discussions

The NHS constitution is set undergo several changes to improve patient care in the UK following a series of new proposals published by the Department of Health.

The proposals stem from recommendations by the NHS Future Forum, a group of healthcare experts first brought together in April 2011 to advise the DH, and include measures to both raise awareness of the constitution and to make sure it is relevant for both patients and NHS staff.

Proposed changes include a responsibility for healthcare professionals to involve patients, families and carers in all decisions about treatment, including end-of-life care, and for mental health to have as high a priority as physical health.

Elsewhere, other patient-centred measures planned for introduction include making it explicit that patients can expect to sleep in single-sex wards, while NHS staff must be “open and honest” with patients if things go wrong or mistakes are made.

There are also plans to improve the NHS environment for staff by making it clear that patients who are abusive or violent to NHS staff could be refused treatment.

Professor Steve Field, chair of the future forum, explained in a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt the need to update the constitution.

He said: “[D]espite the importance and potential of the NHS constitution, its effect so far has been patchy, low key and inconsistent. It has failed to have the impact required to influence the quality of the service, the level of patient experience and give appropriate support to hard-working staff.”

Professor Field said the proposals were a “real opportunity to remedy this”, and he outlined three steps for the constitution to make a difference within the NHS.

This included raising awareness of the constitution's content among the public, patients and staff; making the constitution clearer about when the NHS falls short of expectations; and updating and reinforcing specific areas of the constitution.

“Given that we have found huge support for the constitution from NHS staff and patient organisations, we believe that concerted action on increasing awareness and giving the constitution greater traction offers ... an excellent opportunity to turn a widely supported idea into a powerful reality that can bring major benefit to the NHS and the people it serves,” said Professor Field.

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, welcomed the changes as a means to “make it effective, and more accessible to staff and patients”.

He continued: "Used in the right way, the constitution can help trigger a major cultural shift in the way the NHS thinks about dignity and person-centred care. It cannot do this on its own, but it can play a major part in making it happen.

The proposals are now available for public consultation, with a closing date for comments of January 28, 2013.

6th November 2012

From: Healthcare

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