Doctors back stronger rights for patients
6 November 2012
Doctors leaders have expressed support for many of the changes to the NHS constitution to strengthen patients’ rights in England.
However, the BMA also urged the government to ensure the constitution had a higher public profile.
BMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson said the proposed rights, set out in the Department of Health’s consultation on the NHS constitution, launched yesterday, needed to be disseminated more widely to ensure patients and staff understood its implications.
Among the proposals are the right to single-sex accommodation, increased openness, and involvement in end-of-life decisions.
Dr Nathanson said it must be clear that when it came to end-of-life decisions, the wishes of terminally ill patients who were able to make their own decisions must take priority.
She said: ‘It is already established good medical practice that doctors involve those close to the dying patient about end-of-life decisions. However, where patients are capable of making decisions, their views about who should be involved in their care must take priority.’
New rights and deadlines
Dr Nathanson added: ‘If patients are not competent, decisions should be made by the clinical team in partnership with close relatives. The best interests of the dying patient must be the focus of care.’
Health minister Norman Lamb said the first major changes to the NHS constitution since it was introduced three years ago could include:
- A new right for patients to be told about mistakes and receive an explanation and apology
- A three-day deadline for the NHS to acknowledge patient complaints and tougher rules for handling complaints
- A new pledge to deny NHS services to abusive and violent patients, in cases where this does not endanger their health
- Equal weighting given to physical and mental health.
Mr Lamb said: ‘The NHS is one of this country’s greatest achievements. The government will always make sure it is free to all, no matter your age or the size of your bank balance. That’s why at the same time as we are protecting its budget, we are strengthening the constitution, which enshrines the right of everyone to have first-class care, now and in the future.’
Staff support important
Doctors leaders will submit a full written response to the consultation, which runs until January 28, 2013.
The recommendations for strengthening the constitution were developed by the NHS Future Forum.
BMA council chair Mark Porter, in a letter to NHS Future Forum chair Steve Field in September, writes that doctors leaders are pleased the document recognises the need to support staff as well as patients.
He writes that ‘there can be a gap between theory and practice’ when it comes to offering opportunities for professional development or protection from bullying, for example.
Dr Porter writes: ‘We are pleased to see the constitution recognises the importance of supporting staff to raise their concerns about safety or wrongdoing.
‘In our view, this point could more clearly distinguish between the process that staff should follow in the event of specific concerns and a culture that supports and encourages staff to come forward informally to highlight any potential risks to patients.’