NHS Constitution plans to strengthen privacy, dignity and safety

30 Apr 2024 11:37 AM

Proposed updates to NHS Constitution for England will reflect biological needs of patients and empower people to request same-sex wards and care.

The privacy, dignity and safety of all patients are to be embedded in how the NHS operates under a new constitution that aims to shape the principles and values of the NHS.  

In the proposed changes to the NHS Constitution for England, patients will be empowered to request that intimate care is carried out by someone of the same biological sex, where reasonably possible.   

An updated NHS Constitution would reinforce the NHS’s commitment to providing single-sex wards. This includes setting out that placing transgender patients in single-room accommodation is permissible under the Equality Act 2010 when it is appropriate, such as respecting a patient’s wish to be in a single-sex ward. 

The government has been clear that biological sex matters. The constitution proposal makes clear what patients can expect from NHS services in meeting their needs, including the different biological needs of the sexes. Illnesses and conditions that we know impact men and women differently should be communicated in a clear and accurate way.   

The consultation also plans to embed the right for patients’ and their loved ones’ access to a rapid review from outside the care team if the patient is deteriorating. The importance of this pledge has been made clear by the tragic story of Martha Mills.

It will run for 8 weeks. The government will consider responses from everyone including patients, the public, staff and NHS organisations, before publishing a response and a new NHS Constitution. 

Health and Social Care Secretary, Victoria Atkins, said:  

We want to make it abundantly clear that if a patient wants same-sex care they should have access to it wherever reasonably possible.  

We have always been clear that sex matters and our services should respect that.

By putting this in the NHS Constitution we’re highlighting the importance of balancing the rights and needs of all patients to make a healthcare system that is faster, simpler and fairer for all.

Additional updates the government is proposing include:   

Minister for Women’s Health Strategy, Maria Caulfield, said:  

Updating the NHS Constitution is crucial to ensuring the principles underpinning our NHS work for everyone.  

This is about putting patients first, giving them the dignity and respect that they deserve when they are at their most vulnerable. Our plans include accommodating requests for same-sex intimate care and respecting single-sex wards. 

We’ll also recognise the important role of patients’ loved ones in raising concerns about their care.

The constitution aims to safeguard the principles and values of the NHS. It empowers staff to help improve the care it provides by setting out legal rights for patients and staff when using NHS services. It also sets out clear expectations about the behaviour of both staff and patients, and the role they need to play in supporting the NHS.   

The proposed updates to the constitution will also support the government’s mission to help people to remain in, and return to work, which reflects the important impact that work can have on a person’s health and wellbeing.

Louise Ansari, Chief Executive of Healthwatch England, said: 

The NHS Constitution plays a crucial role in shaping the culture of our NHS and helping the public to know their rights. 

Since the NHS Constitution launched, it has helped to shift the balance of power from services towards patients and their families. But, with only a third of people knowing their rights, there is still a long way to go. 

Given the challenges our NHS faces, a conversation to reaffirm and raise awareness of the most important rights to the public has never been more timely. 

We urge everyone to take part in the consultation and have their say. This is your opportunity to send a clear message about the rights you hold most dear. 

Background information

The NHS Constitution for England was last updated in 2015. It has to be updated at least every 10 years by the Secretary of State. It is a document outlining the rights of patients and staff.

The consultation will be the first stage of a review of the constitution and will run for 8 weeks.

The government will consider responses from everyone, including the public, clinicians and medical professionals, patients, carers and organisations representing patients and staff and health stakeholders, before publishing the consultation response.