Yewande Ipaye from the NHS Constitution team at the Department of Health writes about promoting awareness of the NHS Constitution, and how it helps people to understand what they can expect from the NHS.
Recently I joined the NHS Constitution (NHSC) team at the Department of Health. Prior to joining the team, I had only heard about the existence of the NHS Constitution, despite being in the same Unit. Like many others, I had never seen it, let alone used it.
What is its purpose? Who is it aimed at? How can it actually help people?
The NHS Constitution pulls together the principles and values that the NHS is built upon, along with the most important patient and staff rights to which they are entitled.
It also contains pledges, which the NHS is committed to achieve, together with responsibilities, which the public, patients and staff owe to one another to ensure that the NHS operates fairly and effectively.
It is there to empower patients, public and staff by helping each group to understand what they can expect from the NHS. Put simply, the NHS Constitution is there to ensure the NHS functions in the manner we all want it to.
Through my time in the team, I have come to see how valuable the NHS Constitution is. It brings together in one place the essence of what makes the NHS unique and special. Not only does it give a focal point to what the health service is all about, it reminds everyone what the NHS is striving to achieve each and every day.
The NHS Constitution states that “the NHS provides a comprehensive service available to all, irrespective of gender, race, disability, age…’’. Whilst the NHS Constitution applies to each and every one of us, invariably some of the rights are particularly relevant to older people.
For example, the NHS Constitution mentions the involvement of carers in patient’s health and care, and refers to patient rights such as involvement in planning and making decisions about health and care, including at the end of life care.
It is messages such as this that need to be broadcast.
Given its importance, why do so few people know what the NHS Constitution is, and even less use it? Last year we published a report that found that just 24% of the public are aware of the Constitution, whilst 69% of NHS staff are aware but few feel well informed about it.
Just 2% of people mentioned they would use the Constitution as a source of information, to find out what they can expect from the NHS, in order to keep them healthy and well cared for.
These figures are too low, and are something we want to change. So how can you use the Constitution?
If you are unsure of your entitlements within your care, or if you think your treatment has not been of the required standard, check the Constitution, and take a copy to your local PALS at a hospital.
If you would like your carers or families to be more involved in your health, care and treatment, use and quote the NHS Constitution to ensure this happens. It is all about knowing your rights, and being able to use the NHS Constitution in order to enforce them.
Each and every NHS provider has a legal duty to adhere to the NHS Constitution- and therefore you can use the Constitution as a tool to ensure both your care and treatment, and the wider NHS, functions in the most efficient and effective manner.
We intend on embedding the NHS Constitution throughout the NHS, through increasing awareness and understanding until it is recognised as the first reference point in the NHS.
Until this point, the benefits of the Constitution to users will be limited. We are in the midst of a promotion campaign designed to raise awareness and here, we need your help.
Take a look at the Constitution, tell people about it, spread the message and use it. Take part in our social media campaign focusing on older people and carers, beginning on 2 February (follow @ConstitutionNHS on twitter for more detail), so we can spread our message.