UK Government

Department of Health: NHS Constitution now Backed by Law

Press Release   •   Jan 19, 2010 11:04 GMT

From today, all NHS organisations will be legally obliged to take account of the rights and pledges set out in the NHS Constitution.

The NHS Constitution, published one year ago, sets out patients’ rights to NHS services and safeguards the NHS for the future.  Among other things, it gives patients the legal rights to:

·         access NHS services;

·         drugs and treatments approved by NICE;

·         choice about where they receive their care; and

·         be treated with dignity and respect.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said:

“One year ago, the NHS Constitution came into being.  This landmark document gives patients and staff real power to know what they can expect and what they can demand – demands that cannot go unchecked by the NHS from today.

“As the NHS continues to improve, so will its Constitution – we are already proposing to lock in progress with new rights on waiting times for elective treatments and cancer, and to make the NHS more preventative by giving those most at risk the right to an NHS Health Check every five years.  As the NHS strives to move from good to great and become more people-centred, all the improvements it makes can be safeguarded for future generations.”

The duty to have regard to the NHS Constitution was established in the Health Act 2009 which set out that, from today, all NHS organisations must have regard to all the rights and pledges in the NHS Constitution when making decisions about the services they provide to patients.

As well as patients, the Constitution also ensures that the NHS provides a high-quality working environment for its 1.3 million staff.  It brings together their legal rights, and pledges to provide staff with rewarding jobs that make a difference to patients and communities, support and opportunities to maintain their own health and well-being and the opportunity to give their view on decisions that affect them and the services they provide.

Notes to editors
1.      The NHS Constitution and the current consultation on proposed new patient rights can be found at:

2.      The consultation, which is due to close on 5 February 2010 proposes new rights for patients, including:

·         the legal right to start treatment by a consultant within 18 weeks of GP referral;

·         the legal right to be seen by a cancer specialist within 2 weeks of GP referral; and

·         the legal right for everyone between 40 and 74 to have an NHS Health Check every five years to assess their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.

3.      We are also considering additional future rights on access to NHS dentistry, choosing to die at home, personal health budgets, and the right to key diagnostic tests for suspected cancer patients within one week of seeing a GP, with an interim milestone of 2 weeks.

4.      The Health Act 2009 received royal assent on 12 November 2009.  It can be found at:


 NDS Enquiries
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department