Patients' rights

2a. Patients and the public – your rights and NHS pledges to you

Everyone who uses the NHS should understand what legal rights they have. For this reason, important legal rights are summarised in the NHS Constitution and explained in more detail in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution, which also explains what you can do if you think you have not received what is rightfully yours. This summary does not alter the content of your legal rights. The Constitution also contains pledges that the NHS is committed to achieve. Pledges go above and beyond legal rights. This means that pledges are not legally binding but represent a commitment by the NHS to provide high quality services.

The Constitution also contains pledges that the NHS is committed to achieve. Pledges go above and beyond legal rights. This means that pledges are not legally binding but represent a commitment by the NHS to provide high quality services.

Access to health services:

You have the right to receive NHS services free of charge, apart from certain limited exceptions sanctioned by Parliament.

You have the right to access NHS services. You will not be refused access on unreasonable grounds.

You have the right to expect your local NHS to assess the health requirements of the local community and to commission and put in place the services to meet those needs as considered necessary.

You have the right, in certain circumstances, to go to other European Economic Area countries or Switzerland for treatment which would be available to you through your NHS commissioner.

You have the right not to be unlawfully discriminated against in the provision of NHS services including on grounds of gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability (including learning disability or mental illness) or age.

The NHS also commits:

  • to provide convenient, easy access to services within the waiting times set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution (pledge);
  • to make decisions in a clear and transparent way, so that patients and the public can understand how services are planned and delivered (pledge); and
  • to make the transition as smooth as possible when you are referred between services, and to include you in relevant discussions (pledge).

Quality of care and environment:

You have the right to be treated with a professional standard of care, by appropriately qualified and experienced staff, in a properly approved or registered organisation that meets required levels of safety and quality.

You have the right to expect NHS organisations to monitor, and make efforts to improve, the quality of healthcare they commission or provide.

The NHS also commits:

  • to ensure that services are provided in a clean and safe environment that is it for purpose, based on national best practice (pledge); and
  • to continuous improvement in the quality of services you receive, identifying and sharing best practice in quality of care and treatments (pledge).

Nationally approved treatments, drugs and programmes:

You have the right to drugs and treatments that have been recommended by NICE3 for use in the NHS, if your doctor says they are clinically appropriate for you.

You have the right to expect local decisions on funding of other drugs and treatments to be made rationally following a proper consideration of the evidence. If the local NHS decides not to fund a drug or treatment you and your doctor feel would be right for you, they will explain that decision to you.

You have the right to receive the vaccinations that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommends that you should receive under an NHS-provided national immunisation programme.

The NHS also commits:

  • to provide screening programmes as recommended by the UK National Screening Committee (pledge).

Respect, consent and confidentiality:

You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with your human rights.

You have the right to accept or refuse treatment that is offered to you, and not to be given any physical examination or treatment unless you have given valid consent. If you do not have the capacity to do so, consent must be obtained from a person legally able to act on your behalf, or the treatment must be in your best interests.

You have the right to be given information about your proposed treatment in advance, including any significant risks and any alternative treatments which may be available, and the risks involved in doing nothing.

You have the right to privacy and confidentiality and to expect the NHS to keep your confidential information safe and secure.

You have the right of access to your own health records. These will always be used to manage your treatment in your best interests.

The NHS also commits:

  • to share with you any letters sent between clinicians about your care (pledge).

Informed choice:

You have the right to choose your GP practice, and to be accepted by that practice unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse, in which case you will be informed of those reasons.

You have the right to express a preference for using a particular doctor within your GP practice, and for the practice to try to comply.

You have the right to make choices about your NHS care and to information to support these choices. The options available to you will develop over time and depend on your individual needs. Details are set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution.

The NHS also commits:

  • to inform you about the healthcare services available to you, locally and nationally (pledge); and
  • to offer you easily accessible, reliable and relevant information to enable you to participate fully in your own healthcare decisions and to support you in making choices. This will include information on the quality of clinical services where there is robust and accurate information available (pledge).

Involvement in your healthcare and in the NHS:

You have the right to be involved in discussions and decisions about your healthcare, and to be given information to enable you to do this.

You have the right to be involved, directly or through representatives, in the planning of healthcare services, the development and consideration of proposals for changes in the way those services are provided, and in decisions to be made affecting the operation of those services.

The NHS also commits:

  • to provide you with the information you need to influence and scrutinise the planning and delivery of NHS services (pledge); and
  • to work in partnership with you, your family, carers and representatives (pledge).

Complaint and redress:

You have the right to have any complaint you make about NHS services dealt with efficiently and to have it properly investigated.

You have the right to know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint.

You have the right to take your complaint to the independent Health Service Ombudsman, if you are not satisfied with the way your complaint has been dealt with by the NHS.

You have the right to make a claim for judicial review if you think you have been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body.

You have the right to compensation where you have been harmed by negligent treatment.

The NHS also commits:

  • to ensure you are treated with courtesy and you receive appropriate support throughout the handling of a complaint; and the fact that you have complained will not adversely affect your future treatment (pledge);
  • when mistakes happen, to acknowledge them, apologise, explain what went wrong and put things right quickly and effectively (pledge); and
  • to ensure that the organisation learns lessons from complaints and claims and uses these to improve NHS services (pledge).
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The NHS Constitution