Department of Health and Social Care
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New legal rights for NHS patients

New legal rights for NHS patients

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 10 November 2009

Consultation launched on legal rights to waiting times and NHS Health Checks for patients

Patients will have legal rights to maximum waiting times for elective procedures and urgent cancer referrals and to an NHS Health Check every five years for those aged 40-74, if proposals published today are taken forward.

The proposals, set out in ‘The NHS Constitution: A consultation on new patient rights‘, will mean that from 1 April 2010, patients will have the legal right to maximum waiting times to start treatment by a consultant within 18 weeks of GP referral, and to be seen by a cancer specialist within 2 weeks of GP referral.

If the NHS is unable to meet this commitment, it will be required to take all reasonable steps to find a range of alternative providers that can. This will enable a patient to receive their care more quickly, if this is what they want. The alternatives could include private providers at NHS prices.

In addition, everyone aged 40-74 will have the right to an NHS Health Check every five years to assess their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. Identifying any risk early should help to reduce the incidence of these diseases and the damage they cause.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

"None of us can ever know what's around the corner and it's one of the best things about being British that the NHS will be there for us whatever happens. My own parents could never have afforded all the surgery needed to save my sight if they'd had to pay, and every day I hear from people whose lives have been saved or transformed by the NHS. Today we're reforming the NHS to secure its future – ensuring that patients get a guarantee not a gamble by empowering them with new legal rights.

"These measures build on the high standards and rightly rising expectations of patient care. Every single person who has to go into hospital or go through the difficulty of cancer will have clear rights and real power guaranteeing them quick access to care, or the offer of going private or to another NHS provider if these standards are not met."

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said:

“The NHS Constitution lets people know what they can expect and what they can demand. But, like the NHS, the Constitution must evolve if it is to remain relevant.

“Waiting times are the shortest they have ever been but I want to build on this and give patients a legal right to maximum waiting times. Turning targets into legal rights will empower patients and guarantee them the same high standards of care, regardless of where they live.

“In the next decade, the NHS must make a decisive move towards being a more preventative service and a more people centred service. So I want to give all patients aged 40-74 the legal right to have an NHS Health Check every five years. And we’re also seeking views on whether there should be a legal right in future to choose to die at home and to personal health budgets to give people power over their own care.

“A decade of investment and reform has seen the NHS go from poor to good. Now, in striving to move from good to great we need to take a new approach – less about central targets, more about rights and entitlements. These proposals will mean that patient rights, enshrined in the NHS Constitution, will safeguard the NHS for the future.”

Joe Korner, Director of Communications for The Stroke Association, said:

“We could save up to forty thousand people from having a stroke every year if we could make sure that their blood pressure and other risk factors for stroke were kept under control. That is why The Stroke Association believes these NHS Health Checks are so important.

“Stroke is the biggest cause of severe adult disability and the third biggest killer in the UK. NHS Health Checks will help to identify those at a higher risk of stroke and how to do something about it – whether that's through medication or taking steps to eat more healthily, get more exercise or give up smoking.”

Including these rights in the NHS Constitution would ensure that the NHS will never return to the days of patients waiting 18 months for treatment and offers people a quick and straightforward means of redress for the small number of cases where their rights are not met.

The consultation also seeks views on going even further and including more rights in the future. These could include:

the right to choose to die at home;the right to access to NHS dentistry;the right to personal health budgets; the right to choose a GP practice offering extended access to evening and weekend appointments; andthe right to key diagnostic tests for suspected cancer patients within one week of seeing a GP, with an interim milestone of 2 weeks.

Notes to Editors

The consultation can be found at: NHS Constitution, published in January this year, brought together in one place what the NHS does, what it stands for and the commitments it should live up to. It describes the values and enduring principles of the NHS The waiting times right will ensure that patients, irrespective of where they live, will receive their care or, in the case of suspected cancer, see a cancer specialist within maximum time limits. If this does not happen, the NHS will be required to try to offer them a range of alternative providers who can see them sooner wherever possible.The proposed right will ensure everyone eligible is offered a NHS Health Check to assess their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease, and given appropriate support to manage their risk. This programme is both cost effective and clinically effective. It will help people stay well for longer and will detect these disease much earlier allowing better treatment for example, 20,000 cases of diabetes and kidney disease will be detected earlier each year.For media enquiries only, please contact the Department of Health Newsdesk on 020 7210 5221.


Department of Health
Phone: 020 7210 5221

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