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NHS Constitution

The NHS Constitution seeks to outline the underlying values and principles on which the NHS is based, and in doing so brings together the rights of patient, public and staff.

The Constitution secures the seven founding principles of the NHS which allow the NHS to act in the best interest of patients, public and staff.

It outlines the rights of the patient, including the right to be treated with a professional standard of care; by bringing the rights together and explaining what the patient can do if they do not receive these rights.

Additionally the Constitution sets out the responsibilities of staff, patients and the public that allow the NHS to continue running smoothly.

If at any point you feel that any of your constitutional rights have not been met, please contact the Patient Experience Team on 0115 883 9570.

Further information and the NHS Constitution handbook are available at www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-nhs-constitution-for-england.

Seven key principles guide the NHS in all it does. They are underpinned by core NHS values which have been derived from extensive discussions with staff, patients and the public.

1. The NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all irrespective of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity or marital or civil partnership status. The service is designed to diagnose, treat and improve both physical and mental health. It has a duty to each and every individual that it serves and must respect their human rights. At the same time, it has a wider social duty to promote equality through the services it provides and to pay particular attention to groups or sections of society where improvements in health and life expectancy are not keeping pace with the rest of the population.

2. Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay. NHS services are free of charge, except in limited circumstances sanctioned by Parliament.

3. The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism – in the provision of high quality care that is safe, effective and focused on patient experience; in the people it employs, and in the support, education, training and development they receive; in the leadership and management of its organisations; and through its commitment to innovation and to the promotion, conduct and use of research to improve the current and future health and care of the population. Respect, dignity, compassion and care should be at the core of how patients and staff are treated not only because that is the right thing to do but because patient safety, experience and outcomes are all improved when staff are valued, empowered and supported.

4. The NHS aspires to put patients at the heart of everything it does. It should support individuals to promote and manage their own health. NHS services must reflect, and should be coordinated around and tailored to, the needs and preferences of patients, their families and their carers. Patients, with their families and carers, where appropriate, will be involved in and consulted on all decisions about their care and treatment. The NHS will actively encourage feedback from the public, patients and staff, welcome it and use it to improve its services.

5. The NHS works across organisational boundaries and in partnership with other organisations in the interest of patients, local communities and the wider population. The NHS is an integrated system of organisations and services bound together by the principles and values reflected in the Constitution. The NHS is committed to working jointly with other local authority services, other public sector organisations and a wide range of private and voluntary sector organisations to provide and deliver improvements in health and wellbeing.

6. The NHS is committed to providing best value for taxpayers’ money and the most effective, fair and sustainable use of finite resources. Public funds for healthcare will be devoted solely to the benefit of the people that the NHS serves.

7. The NHS is accountable to the public, communities and patients that it serves. The NHS is a national service funded through national taxation, and it is the Government which sets the framework for the NHS and which is accountable to Parliament for its operation. However, most decisions in the NHS, especially those about the treatment of individuals and the detailed organisation of services, are rightly taken by the local NHS and by patients with their clinicians. The system of responsibility and accountability for taking decisions in the NHS should be transparent and clear to the public, patients and staff. The Government will ensure that there is always a clear and up-to-date statement of NHS accountability for this purpose.

Patients, public and staff have helped develop this expression of values that inspire passion in the NHS and that should underpin everything it does. Individual organisations will develop and build upon these values, tailoring them to their local needs. The NHS values provide common ground for co-operation to achieve shared aspirations, at all levels of the NHS.

1. Working together for patients: Patients come first in everything we do. We fully involve patients, staff, families, carers, communities, and professionals inside and outside the NHS. We put the needs of patients and communities before organisational boundaries. We speak up when things go wrong.

2. Respect and dignity: We value every person – whether patient, their families or carers, or staff – as an individual, respect their aspirations and commitments in life, and seek to understand their priorities, needs, abilities and limits. We take what others have to say seriously. We are honest and open about our point of view and what we can and cannot do. 

3. Commitment to quality of care: We earn the trust placed in us by insisting on quality and striving to get the basics of quality of care – safety, effectiveness and patient experience – right every time. We encourage and welcome feedback from patients, families, carers, staff and the public. We use this to improve the care we provide and build on our successes.

4. Compassion: We ensure that compassion is central to the care we provide and respond with humanity and kindness to each person’s pain, distress, anxiety or need. We search for the things we can do, however small, to give comfort and relieve suffering. We find time for patients, their families and carers, as well as those we work alongside. We do not wait to be asked, because we care. 

5. Improving lives: We strive to improve health and wellbeing and people’s experiences of the NHS. We cherish excellence and professionalism wherever we find it – in the everyday things that make people’s lives better as much as in clinical practice, service improvements and innovation. We recognise that all have a part to play in making ourselves, patients and our communities healthier. 

6. Everyone counts: We maximise our resources for the benefit of the whole community, and make sure nobody is excluded, discriminated against or left behind. We accept that some people need more help, that difficult decisions have to be taken – and that when we waste resources we waste opportunities for others.
Everyone who uses the NHS should understand what legal rights they have. For this reason, important legal rights are summarised in this Constitution and explained in more detail in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution, which also explains what you can do if you think you have not received what is rightfully yours. This summary does not alter your legal rights.
Access to health services:
  • You have the right to receive NHS services free of charge, apart from certain limited exceptions sanctioned by Parliament.
  • You have the right to access NHS services. You will not be refused access on unreasonable grounds.
  • You have the right to expect your NHS to assess the health requirements of your community and to commission and put in place the services to meet those needs as considered necessary, and in the case of public health services commissioned by local authorities, to take steps to improve the health of the local community.
  • You have the right, in certain circumstances, to go to other European Economic Area countries or Switzerland for treatment which would be available to you through your NHS commissioner.
  • You have the right not to be unlawfully discriminated against in the provision of NHS services including on grounds of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity or marital or civil partnership status.
  • You have the right to access certain services commissioned by NHS bodies within maximum waiting times, or for the NHS to take all reasonable steps to offer you a range of suitable alternative providers if this is not possible. The waiting times are described in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution.
Quality of care and environment:
  • You have the right to be treated with a professional standard of care, by appropriately qualified and experienced staff, in a properly approved or registered organisation that meets required levels of safety and quality.
  • You have the right to expect NHS bodies to monitor, and make efforts to improve continuously, the quality of healthcare they commission or provide. This includes improvements to the safety, effectiveness and experience of services.
Nationally approved treatments, drugs and programmes:
  • You have the right to drugs and treatments that have been recommended by NICE1 for use in the NHS, if your doctor says they are clinically appropriate for you.
  • You have the right to expect local decisions on funding of other drugs and treatments to be made rationally following a proper consideration of the evidence. If the local NHS decides not to fund a drug or treatment you and your doctor feel would be right for you, they will explain that decision to you.
  • You have the right to receive the vaccinations that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommends that you should receive under an NHS-provided national immunisation programme.
Respect, consent and confidentiality:
  • You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with your human rights.
  • You have the right to accept or refuse treatment that is offered to you, and not to be given any physical examination or treatment unless you have given valid consent. If you do not have the capacity to do so, consent must be obtained from a person legally able to act on your behalf, or the treatment must be in your best interests.2
  • You have the right to be given information about the test and treatment options available to you, what they involve and their risks and benefits.
  • You have the right of access to your own health records and to have any factual inaccuracies corrected.
  • You have the right to privacy and confidentiality and to expect the NHS to keep your confidential information safe and secure.
  • You have the right to be informed about how your information is used.
  • You have the right to request that your confidential information is not used beyond your own care and treatment and to have your objections considered, and where your wishes cannot be followed, to be told the reasons including the legal basis.
Informed choice:
  • You have the right to choose your GP practice, and to be accepted by that practice unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse, in which case you will be informed of those reasons.
  • You have the right to express a preference for using a particular doctor within your GP practice, and for the practice to try to comply.
  • You have the right to make choices about the services commissioned by NHS bodies and to information to support these choices. The options available to you will develop over time and depend on your individual needs. Details are set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution.
Involvement in your healthcare and in the NHS:
  • You have the right to be involved in discussions and decisions about your health and care, including your end of life care, and to be given information to enable you to do this. Where appropriate this right includes your family and carers.
  • You have the right to be involved, directly or through representatives, in the planning of healthcare services commissioned by NHS bodies, the development and consideration of proposals for changes in the way those services are provided, and in decisions to be made affecting the operation of those services.
Complaint and redress:
  • You have the right to have any complaint you make about NHS services acknowledged within three working days and to have it properly investigated.
  • You have the right to discuss the manner in which the complaint is to be handled, and to know the period within which the investigation is likely to be completed and the response sent.
  • You have the right to be kept informed of progress and to know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint, including an explanation of the conclusions and confirmation that any action needed in consequence of the complaint has been taken or is proposed to be taken.
  • You have the right to take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman or Local Government Ombudsman, if you are not satisfied with the way your complaint has been dealt with by the NHS.
  • You have the right to make a claim for judicial review if you think you have been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body or local authority.
  • You have the right to compensation where you have been harmed by negligent treatment.
The NHS belongs to all of us. There are things that we can all do for ourselves and for one another to help it work effectively, and to ensure resources are used responsibly. 
  • Please recognise that you can make a significant contribution to your own, and your family’s, good health and wellbeing, and take personal responsibility for it.
  • Please register with a GP practice, the main point of access to NHS care as commissioned by NHS bodies.
  • Please treat NHS staff and other patients with respect and recognise that violence, or the causing of nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises, could result in prosecution. You should recognise that abusive and violent behaviour could result in you being refused access to NHS services.
  • Please provide accurate information about your health, condition and status.
  • Please keep appointments, or cancel within reasonable time. Receiving treatment within the maximum waiting times may be compromised unless you do.
  • Please follow the course of treatment which you have agreed, and talk to your clinician if you find this difficult.
  • Please participate in important public health programmes such as vaccination.
  • Please ensure that those closest to you are aware of your wishes about organ donation.
  • Please give feedback – both positive and negative – about your experiences and the treatment and care you have received, including any adverse reactions you may have had. You can often provide feedback anonymously and giving feedback will not affect adversely your care or how you are treated. If a family member or someone you are a carer for is a patient and unable to provide feedback, you are encouraged to give feedback about their experiences on their behalf. Feedback will help to improve NHS services for all.

All staff have responsibilities to the public, their patients and colleagues.

Important legal duties are summarised below.

  • They have a duty to accept professional accountability and maintain the standards of professional practice as set by the appropriate regulatory body applicable to their profession or role.
  • They have a duty to take reasonable care of health and safety at work for them, their team and others, and to co-operate with employers to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements.
  • They have a duty to act in accordance with the express and implied terms of their contract of employment.
  • They have a duty not to discriminate against patients or staff and to adhere to equal opportunities and equality and human rights legislation.
  • They have a duty to protect the confidentiality of personal information that they hold.
  • They have a duty to be honest and truthful in applying for a job and in carrying out that job.

The Constitution also includes expectations that reflect how staff should play their part in ensuring the success of the NHS and delivering high-quality care.

They should aim:

  • To maintain the highest standards of care and service, treating every individual with compassion, dignity and respect, taking responsibility not only for the care they personally provide, but also for their wider contribution to the aims of their team and the NHS as a whole
  • To take up training and development opportunities provided over and above those legally required of their post
  • To play their part in sustainably improving services by working in partnership with patients, the public and communities
  • To raise any genuine concern they may have about a risk, malpractice or wrongdoing at work (such as a risk to patient safety, fraud or breaches of patient confidentiality), which may affect patients, the public, other staff or the organisation itself, at the earliest reasonable opportunity
  • To involve patients, their families, carers or representatives fully in decisions about prevention, diagnosis, and their individual care and treatment
  • To be open with patients, their families, carers or representatives - including if anything goes wrong, welcoming and listening to feedback and addressing concerns promptly and in a spirit of co-operation
  • To contribute to a climate where the truth can be heard, the reporting of, and learning from, errors is encouraged and colleagues are supported where errors are made
  • To view the services they provide from the standpoint of a patient, and involve patients, their families and carers in the services they provide, working with them, their communities and other organisations, and making it clear who is responsible for their care
  • To take every appropriate opportunity to encourage and support patients and colleagues to improve their health and wellbeing
  • To contribute towards providing fair and equitable services for all and play their part, wherever possible, in helping to reduce inequalities in experience, access or outcomes between differing groups or sections of society requiring health care
  • To inform patients about the use of their confidential information and to record their objections, consent or dissent
  • To provide access to a patient’s information to other relevant professionals, always doing so securely, and only where there is a legal and appropriate basis to do so.
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